EMTs: Is becoming a paramedic right for you?

Consider becoming a paramedic to advance your EMS career


Thinking about becoming a paramedic? You're not alone. It’s an important career with solid opportunities for stable employment in just about every part of the nation. Those in love with EMS will learn a greater variety of life-saving skills, and will expand their leadership role at the scene of an emergency.

Besides having more responsibilities on scene and earning a higher salary, becoming a paramedic also opens the door to many career options outside of working on an ambulance. According to Bureau of Labor Statistics data from 2011, EMTs earn about $30,000 to $50,000 a year, whereas becoming a paramedic could mean making $40,000 to $70,000 a year.

What do paramedics have in common with EMTs?

Most patients’ conditions can be managed with the Basic Life Support care that EMTs of all levels can provide.

Both EMTs and paramedics are able to:

  • Bandage wounds
  • Stabilize head and neck injuries
  • Stabilize broken bones
  • Resuscitate drowning victims
  • Administer CPR and use AEDs
  • Perform emergency childbirth procedures
  • Assess health situations
  • Administer certain medications

However, some critical patients require ALS support just to survive the trip to the emergency room. That’s where paramedic training is used.

What is the difference between a paramedic and an EMT?

Becoming a paramedic is the highest level of Emergency Medical Technician and requires much more advanced training than becoming a basic EMT. Paramedic vs. EMT training is quite rigorous and takes about two years to complete, depending on state requirements.

For reference, EMT schools like UCLA's EMT course last between 120 to 150 hours of classroom time, about the length of a semester. Paramedic school can take anywhere from 1,200 to 1,800 hours. Candidates might even be required to have completed credits in college-level biology, math and English just to get accepted.

Some skills that only paramedics are trained and authorized to do include:

  • Providing cardiac support for heart attack victims
  • Administering a much wider variety of drugs including paralytics and sedatives
  • Interpreting EKG rhythms
  • Performing emergency respiratory procedures for people with blocked airways
  • Administering IV (intravenous) and IO (intraosseous) fluids

Paramedics may also give dozens of medications (compared to eight for an EMT), including medicine to treat cardiac patients, manage a patient’s pain and nausea, sedate combative patients, alleviate symptoms of asthma, and help diabetics.

In the face of a growing heroin and opioid epidemic, paramedics are also called to administer Narcan to revive patients who have overdosed.

Paramedics may also perform certain invasive surgical procedures under medical direction. For example, paramedics can intubate unconscious patients who cannot breathe on their own. You might have seen a cricothyroidotomy on TV, where medics create a hole in someone’s throat in order to get air into a blocked windpipe.

We’ve all heard of an IV or had one put in, but you may not have heard of intraosseous (IO) infusion. In case of extreme dehydration or blood loss, paramedics can drill a hole directly into a patient’s long bone to administer medication and fluids through the marrow.
 

For many who are considering the paramedic vs. EMT question, the bottom line is that paramedic training programs require a lot more time to get through than an EMT course. However, people who are in love with the field of EMS can expand their knowledge base and skillset by studying to become a paramedic.

Exciting EMS careers open to paramedics

While many EMTs can use their skills to work outside of an ambulance at places like sporting events or theme parks, paramedic jobs tend to be more varied because of their additional skills and training.

Firefighting is a popular career choice for paramedics. While not all departments require a paramedic certification, it will certainly help secure a position on the team.

Highly-certified paramedics can work in a hospital, either as an ER tech or in the operating room. Nurses with paramedic experience are more valuable in the operating room, especially because they’re able to intubate.

Flight paramedics transport critical patients by helicopter when time is of the essence, or travel to rural areas that would be difficult to access by ambulance.

Tactical medics provide medical support to local SWAT teams. Certain tactical medics may be qualified to perform wilderness rescues from rivers, cliffs, or trenches.

Though EMTs and paramedics perform similar work, paramedics have a much wider scope of practice and receive more in-depth training. EMTs who wish to dive deeper into the profession or anyone else looking for a rewarding, exciting career should consider becoming a paramedic.

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