Paramedic vs. EMT: Which path is right for you?

Becoming a paramedic is the highest level of prehospital care and requires much more advanced training than becoming a basic EMT


Pondering the Paramedic vs. EMT question? You're not alone. They are both great career choices that allow you to make an important contribution to your community. They're also careers that are in demand, with good opportunities for stable employment in just about every part of the United States.

One factor in deciding the paramedic versus EMT issue is the amount of schooling involved. The certification requirements and designations of Emergency Medical Technician are standardized throughout the U.S., but there is still variation in each state's designated levels and scope of practice. Although they vary depending on the location, the designations are usually EMT, AEMT and paramedic. Some states may still have certifications for the EMT-Intermediate or EMT cardiac. 

Education requirements

Passing the NREMT certification test is an important step in demonstrating the minimal competency to perform the jobs of EMT and paramedic.
Passing the NREMT certification test is an important step in demonstrating the minimal competency to perform the jobs of EMT and paramedic.

When considering whether to become a paramedic or EMT, you should take into account that becoming an EMT requires the minimal amount of training. It generally takes about six months to complete the part-time schooling in basic life support. Your training will teach you how to give important emergency medical care, such as performing CPR, bandaging wounds, treating burns, stabilizing fractures and administering some medications.

[Learn more: Want to become an EMT? This is what you need to know]

Becoming a paramedic is the highest level of prehospital care and requires much more advanced training than becoming an EMT. Paramedic training is quite rigorous and takes one to two years to complete, depending on state requirements and if you are pursuing a technical certificate or an associates degree. You usually have to have completed college-level biology, math and English courses in order to be accepted in or to complete a paramedic program.

Paramedics perform all of the basic life support functions that EMTs do, plus they're certified to perform more advanced life saving procedures such as endotracheal intubation, intravenous access and drug administration and manual defibrillation.

Paramedics also become trained and certified in advanced cardiac life support. 

[Learn more: How to become a paramedic: Requirements for the job]

Certification testing for EMTs and paramedics

All EMTs and paramedics must undergo certification testing by the state in which they work. In some states the certification test is administered by the National Registery of EMTs. A few states use a state-specific certification examination.

A training program prepares candidates for the challenging NREMT certification test. Passing the certification test is an important step in demonstrating the minimal competency to perform the jobs of EMT and paramedic. State-specific licensure requirements set the process for maintaining competency through affiliation with an ambulance service provider, medical director approval and completion of continuing education requirements. 

[More: 10 tips to succeed on the NREMT exam]

EMT vs. paramedic 

For many who are considering the paramedic versus EMT question, the bottom line is that you must first become an EMT before you can begin training as a paramedic. Some paramedic training programs require you to be employed as an EMT for a period of time before beginning your paramedic training.

As a paramedic, you'll also earn more money than an EMT, which might impact your ultimate career choice. For example, Denver Health recently posted two job openings, one for a paramedic and the other for an EMT basic. While the EMT could expect to earn between $17.35 and $23.41 per hour (or roughly $36,000 to $48,000 per year) depending on experience, the paramedic could pull in anywhere between $25.67 and $37.31 per hour (or roughly $53,000 to $77,000 per year).

This more than $20,000 average difference between the two roles is similar to what is born out in the national data. According to Payscale, an EMT at the lowest level of certification earns an average of $30,500 per year in the United States while paramedics earn an average salary of $46,500, for a difference of roughly $16,000 per year.

When deciding whether to become a paramedic vs. EMT, you should know that either choice offers a rewarding career, job security, good pay and a chance to perform an important role in your community.

This article, originally published October 2011, has been updated.

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