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Emergency Medical Technician Job Description

Crucial workers on the front lines of health care, EMTs are often the first care providers to interface with members of the public in crisis. Their work is stressful and may happen at any hour of the day or night. They deal with traffic accidents, childbirth, and domestic violence, among other medical emergencies.

EMTs are tasked with providing patients basic emergency medical care and transportation to the next stage of care. They manage emergencies by sizing up crises and making vital decisions to keep patients alive en route to a fully equipped medical facility.

An EMT is a certified and licensed health care professional who must adhere to ethics and treatment protocols. An EMT with advanced training is often called a Paramedic. While an EMT is restricted to providing basic life support, a Paramedic can administer pharmacological treatments and deploy more invasive techniques to help stabilize critical individuals.

EMT Duties

  • Stabilizing or extricating victims in crisis
  • Evaluating injuries and illness
  • Administering emergency medical care
  • Transporting sick and injured patients to primary medical facilities
  • Communicating with linked health care professionals

How To Become An EMT

Becoming an EMT is a relatively straightforward process. Aspiring EMTs must first learn the precise requirements specified by the regulatory body in the intended practice jurisdiction. Next, students enroll in a state-approved training program that includes both classroom instruction and supervised clinical experiences.
Students must then pass a test, typically the national exam administered by NREMT (National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians). Certification alone does not confer the right to practice. After obtaining National Certification, graduates must then seek a state license to work.

How Long Does It Take To Become An EMT?

States and by extension the NREMT expect prospective entry-level EMTs to complete 100 to 200 hours of classroom instruction and field training. Actual programs last from a few weeks to over a year; one or two semesters is common.
Additionally, it can take several additional weeks or even months to complete the certification testing process. In all, it takes at least several months to become an EMT.

Education Requirements

Formal EMT training consists of two components: classroom instruction and supervised clinical experience sometimes called a practicum or preceptorship. The classroom portion of training should prepare students for the main NREMT ‘cognitive’ exam, which covers the following topics:

  • Airway
  • Ventilation
  • Oxygenation
  • Trauma
  • Cardiology
  • Medical
  • EMS Operations

All training programs should be accredited by either the Committee on Accreditation of Educational Programs for the Emergency Medical Services Profession (CoAEMSP) or the Commission on Accreditation of Allied HealthEducation Programs (CAAHEP). The program should also be explicitly approved by the relevant state agency and meet total and segmented hour requirements for training. Note that shorter, accelerated courses may be more challenging.


To earn basic certification as an EMT, students must pass the NREMT’s national exam, a two-hour computer test. Graduates of training programs must get certified within two years of the graduation date. Certification also requires a current CPR credential for health care providers and a passing score on a state-approved EMT psychomotor exam.
EMTs may also undergo additional training and testing to earn advanced certifications. Although levels have varied by locality, next year will see the introduction of a new, nationally standardized three-tier system consisting of the following levels: Emergency medical technician, Advanced emergency medical technician, and Paramedic.


After completing training and earning national certification, the next step is licensure with the appropriate jurisdiction. This is usually the state; in some places, notably California, it is the county.
States have their own requirements and fees, but the majority utilize the national NREMT exam for at least one EMT certification. Background checks and drug tests are common as well. State testing requirements can change anytime, so check with the appropriate agency for updated information.

Job Outlook

According to the U.S. BLS, entry-level and advanced EMT jobs should grow by 33 percent through the end of the decade—faster than the average occupation in the United States. EMTs are seeing higher call volumes and spending more time with patients, largely thanks to the increasing age of the American population and the related increase in medical emergencies. Detailed emergency medical technician salary data is available here.

States With Highest Employment Levels

State Hourly mean Wage Annual mean salary # Employed Employment/1000 jobs
California $16.45 $34,210 16,960 1.19
New York $18.85 $39,210 15,470 1.81
Pennsylvania $15.48 $32,210 13,840 2.47
Texas $15.38 $31,980 13,290 1.26
Illinois $23.25 $48,350 12,670 2.25


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