Deciding to become an EMT, again

Here are five things I learned about becoming an EMT 20 years after I first became an EMT


When I received my initial NREMT certification at age 18, I couldn’t work as an EMT-Basic. The ambulance services in my area required their medics to be at least 24-years-old because of insurance policies. So, I did the next best thing and joined the military. 

Twenty years later, I retired from the military and needed a new career, making it a great time to go back to my original plan of becoming an EMT, again. This time the age requirement wouldn’t be an issue.

Not knowing where to begin, the internet helped me navigate through a lot of information about training and testing. It seemed a bit overwhelming.

Using my experience, I’d like to share five tips that you may find beneficial whether you are becoming an EMT for the first time or if you are returning to EMS after a long absence.

1. Registry is there to help

The best place to start is with the organization that sets the processes to assess the knowledge and skills required to become certified. The NREMT website provides plenty of information on how to obtain and maintain an EMS certification. Additionally, the NREMT certification representatives were very good at reviewing my information and providing detailed instructions on how to obtain a national and state certification.

Since my certification was lapsed with an extended break, I had two options. The first was to research the Commission on Accreditation of Pre-Hospital Continuing Education website, previously known as the Continuing Education Coordinating Board for Emergency Medical Services website, for a refresher, transition and continuing education courses. The second option was to repeat EMT training. Since I wanted to go back to the basics, the second choice was best for me.

2. Finding an EMT course

In order to become an EMT, you must complete an initial training from a state-approved EMS education program. Most programs are taught on campus at local colleges, universities or technical institutions. There are some satellite programs available that are affiliated with these venues as well. The training can be completed in five to six months depending on program requirements and the national registry test schedule. You will need to contact the training site directly to find out more information about these programs.

There may be several programs offered in your area, but it may be difficult to decide which one to choose. The methods that helped me decide were internet searches, contacting the school directly and networking with course graduates.

The internet let me search for programs in my area. Using keywords such as "EMT programs near New Orleans" helped me find a list of programs available. Once the information about the program was reviewed online, I contacted the institution's academic advisor to find out more information. The advisor was very helpful in providing additional admission requirements, program director contact information and offered to schedule a meeting with a professor.

Lastly, I looked for networking opportunities from those who are currently working in the field as providers. These opportunities were available through friends, family and public events such as career-awareness fairs, festivals or health fairs. This was a great way to gather a different perspective about a program and learn some tips to help succeed throughout the entire process of becoming an EMT again.

Once I found a program and was accepted, it was time to get to work.

3. Prepare for the workload AND study time

The decision to become an EMT should not be taken lightly. The training program is intense, compact and often physically demanding. It will be like no other class or test that you’ve taken before. It’s a combination of lecture, practical hands-on skills and clinical requirements.

You’ll be introduced to an exorbitant amount of information in a short-period of time that you’ll have to regurgitate with precision. You’ll be required to understand the homeostasis of the body and the effects that can result when this harmony is interrupted.

If you haven’t already, it would be beneficial to complete an anatomy and pathophysiology course before taking an EMT course. It’ll help in understanding the various systems of the body and how each one interacts with the other. This is paramount when conducting patient assessments in a medical or trauma situation. As an added bonus, an A&P course will make sure you aren't hearing about the importance of electrolytes for the first time in EMT class.

4. Start early and stay ahead

Most EMT classes are designed with a particular rhythm or cycle in mind. Our class rhythm went something like this for each of the major topics:

  • Lecture
  • Practical
  • Lecture
  • Study
  • Written test
  • Practical test

The above cycle repeated with each new topic or content area. It was beneficial to adapt my life routine to this rhythm. Depending on the topic, I made adjustments for extra study time and skills practice. The more you practice and study, the more confidence you’ll likely have when tackling both the written and skills tests.

Our class met twice a week for lecture and once a week for lab. Our clinicals were two 12-hour shifts with an ambulance service toward the end of the semester. Our class was designed to teach us everything we needed to know before clinicals were scheduled. We were expected to know psychomotor skill sheets and understand patient assessment before stepping foot on a truck. 

5. Create and rely on your support system

A support system is your network for practical or emotional support. Completing an EMT course requires a solid support system from family, friends, neighbors, instructors and classmates. It’s important to create a system of positive vibes that will light a fire under your butt when you’re feeling defeated or pat you on the back when you’ve reached a milestone. When you embark on your EMT career, you’ll find that a support system is what makes the job bearable on the worst days and enjoyable on the best days. 

What was your path to entering or re-entering the EMS career field?

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