How to Become an EMT or Paramedic
Emergency medical technicians and paramedics are literal lifesavers, responding to and treating the sick or injured in emergencies. EMTs and paramedics perform physically demanding and often stressful work involving life-and-death situations.
EMTs and paramedics suffer a much larger than average number of work-related injuries or illnesses. They do considerable kneeling, bending and lifting while caring for and moving patients. They may be exposed to contagious diseases or injured by combative patients.
There are three occupational levels for the profession: Basic EMT, Advanced EMT and Paramedic. All require formal training programs.
A high school diploma or equivalent, as well as cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) certification are required in order to enter most formal education and training programs. Formal training is offered by technical institutes, community colleges, and facilities that specialize in emergency care training.
High school students interested in entering these occupations should take courses in anatomy and physiology.
Basic EMTs provide basic life support to patients in emergency situations.
Training includes learning to assess patients’ conditions, deal with trauma and cardiac emergencies, clear obstructed airways, use field equipment and handle emergencies. Formal courses include about 100 hours of specialized training. Some training may take place in a hospital or ambulance setting.
EMTs learn to deal with heart attacks, seizures, respiratory problems and a host of other medical issues. Learing to care for patients with traumatic injuries – including fractures, breaks and lacerations that can occur in events such as accidents and natural disasters – is also part of an EMT’s training.
EMTs also perform patient assessments, take patients’ histories and read vital signs. They may also be called upon to perform CPR, utilize artificial ventilation, immobilize the patient’s spine, bandage injuries and administer medication.
Like Basic EMTs, Advanced EMTs provide basic life support to patients in emergency situations. However, they have a great deal more training and are able to perform more functions than a Basic EMT.
In addition to the Basic EMT training, reaching to Advanced EMT level requires 1,000 hours of training based on the scope of practice. Students also learn to use complex airway devices, to administer IV treatment and perform cardiac monitoring.
Paramedics must complete both Basic and Advanced EMT level training, as well as training in advanced medical skills. Community colleges and technical schools may offer this training, in which graduates may receive an associate’s degree. Paramedic programs require about 1,300 hours of training and may take up to two years.
In addition to the duties of an EMT, paramedics perform advance airway management, such as endotracheal intubation, obtain electrocardiographs (ECGs), introduce intravenous lines and administer numerous emergency medications. Paramedics assess ECG tracings and defibrillate. They also have extensive training in patient assessment.
Job growth for EMTs and paramedics is forecast to be 33% between 2010-2020, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. This job growth is fueled by an increase in the middle-aged and elderly population, which will lead to a greater number of age-related health emergencies, such as heart attacks or strokes.
In May 2010, the median annual wage of EMTs and paramedics was $30,360.
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