Want to become an EMT? This is what you need to know.

Being an EMT is rewarding job, and there’s plenty of room to grow


If you’re thinking of becoming an emergency medical technician, you might have questions about the job and the process to become one.

When investigating the EMT job description, it's important to take into account all of the duties of this important life-saving profession. If you're thinking of becoming an EMT, it's important to know the requirements of the job so you can assess whether you're suited to it. If you already are an EMT, you might want a refresher on the job description so you can see if you're performing all of your duties properly. You also might want to check to see if your employer is asking you to fulfill duties that are outside the realm of normal EMT responsibilities.

EMT job description states that they're required to provide emergency medical support to people who are injured or critically ill and transport them to a medical facility, if necessary.

As a first responder in an ambulance service or fire department, EMTs are dispatched to the scene of an emergency. This can be anything from a car accident, a fire, a falling injury, a dog bite, a shooting or stabbing, a birth or a person who's suddenly fallen ill.

Once at the scene of the emergency, EMTs assess the situation and determine if additional assistance is needed, and order it, if necessary.

What are the skills and responsibilities of EMTs?
The ultimate task in the EMT job description is to assess the medical needs of the sick or injured and provide immediate care, with priority given to those who are the most seriously in need of help. Once this assessment takes place, they perform whatever medical assistance is needed as long as it's within the scope of their training. EMTs are trained to give Basic Life Support (BLS) treatments, so they are able to:

  • Perform CPR and use an AED
  • Bandage wounds
  • Stabilize head and neck injuries
  • Stabilize broken bones
  • Resuscitate drowning victims
  • Provide oxygen to patients
  • Perform emergency childbirth procedures
  • Assess health emergencies
  • Administer certain medications like naloxone, epinepherine and albuterol

In the majority of emergencies, BLS care is enough to manage patients until they arrive at the hospital.

What type of emergencies do EMTs respond to?
In EMS, the majority of calls will fall into either medical or trauma. Medical calls involve things like:

Trauma calls usually involve an accident or physical injury. EMTs will respond to car crashes, falls, bar fights, and sports injuries. Unfortunately mass casualty incidents require EMS providers to train with police and other agencies to be prepared to triage and treat multiple critical patients in dangerous scenes.

EMTs also assist in childbirth and help people with mental disorders in need of medical assistance.

EMTs may also respond to calls that are stranger than fiction. When entering the scene of an emergency, EMS providers must be prepared to deal with whatever comes their way.

What does an average EMT’s day look like?
EMT shifts can run from 8 to 48 hours (with a couple days off after), but their rotations are rarely the same week-to-week. The schedule can be refreshing for people who don’t like working a standard 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. job.

While transporting a patient to the hospital, EMTs must communicate with medical staff about their patient’s condition and what treatments they have provided. For example, it must be reported when an emergency EpiPen is given to a patient suffering a severe allergic reaction.

After responding to a call, EMTs fill out a report describing the incident. These records are stored in case a call must be investigated for medical or legal reasons.

In between responding to emergencies, EMTs are required to clean and disinfect their ambulance and replace any supplies they used.

Otherwise, the downtime in between calls and administrative duties can be filled with reading, Netflix, making meals, or sleeping.

How long does it take to get EMT certified?
Many community colleges offer EMT courses that last about five months, the length of a semester. These classes are taught by former EMTs, paramedics and firefighters, who will share their career experiences and knowledge with new students. Aspiring EMTs will also learn practical skills such as working with an oxygen tank and how to splint broken bones.

EMT certification could as little as three weeks if you find a very intensive, abbreviated course. However, students without background knowledge in medicine or anatomy may struggle to learn all of the material in such a short amount of time.

Once you pass a practical skills exam and work about 48 hours at a hospital or fire department, you will be cleared to take the standardized NREMT test. The NREMT exam is computer-based, and you must schedule an appointment with a local testing center.

What traits do EMTs need to have?
EMTs must be able to maintain their composure in extremely stressful situations. It’s important to keep a clear head and remain objective about medical situations so that emergency lifesaving procedures can be performed.

Many people who are drawn to EMS possess Type A personality traits, which allows them to take control of a scene. However, it’s important to know that being too aggressive with patient handling and care may be counteractive to our profession.

Physically, EMTs must also be strong enough to safely transfer patients onto a stretcher in the event the patient needs to go to the hospital. You don’t need to be an athlete, but practicing proper lifting mechanics at the gym will help prevent injuries and make your partner happy they’re not doing all the work.

Do I need to have a strong stomach to be an EMT?
EMTs may be exposed to every bodily fluid you’ve heard of, and perhaps some you haven’t, like ‘meconium’ and ‘coffee ground emesis’ (Google in private).

But here’s the thing: in the heat of the moment, things that would disgust you in regular life won’t stop you from helping a patient in their time of need. Your training kicks in, and the desire to help another person will win out over any squeamishness you might have.

EMTs are provided with a lot of gear to be exposed from biohazards and contagious disease. Personal protective equipment (PPE) includes gloves, gowns and particle-filtering masks.

What is an EMT’s salary?
EMT pay will be different for everyone depending on where you live and which agency you work for, but you will probably never get rich on an EMT salary alone.

Government services like Boston EMS may pay its BLS EMTs around $29 per hour to work in a very busy metropolitan system. While this seems like a lot of money at first glance, cost of living is high and employees are required to live within city limits.

EMTs in Los Angeles make an average of $21,580 annually.

Career EMTs are known to work more than 40 hours a week to get paid overtime, and many take second jobs to make ends meet.

How can I advance my EMT career?
Firefighting is also a very popular choice for career EMTs. Some fire departments have evolved to become the main EMS providers in their area, so their personnel are able to respond to medical calls in between fighting fires. While not all departments require EMT certification, it will certainly help your chances of getting a job with one.

EMTs can earn additional certifications to advance their skills and career. Depending on the area, some EMTs are able to work at the hospital as an emergency room technician.

EMTs who pursue their paramedic certification will greatly expand their skillset. This opens up doors to other exciting career paths, such as flight paramedic or tactical EMS.

About the author

EMS 101 articles are intended to educate a non-emergency medical services audience about the emergency medical services profession. These articles are written by EMS1 staff members and EMS1 contributors, and cover a wide range of topics from EMS protocols all paramedics & EMTs should follow to an overview of the necessary requirements for becoming a paramedic.

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