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Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) Career Guide

What is an emergency medical technician?

If you have a passion for helping others and are seeking a job where you can be on the go, then becoming an emergency medical technician (EMT) could be a great career path. EMTs are medical emergency responders.

This job requires compassion as you provide patients with emotional and medical support when experiencing life-threatening situations. While it can be stressful working as an EMT, nothing is more rewarding than helping others in times of need. Working as an EMT can help prepare you for other healthcare roles and allies such as doctors, nurses, police officers, and firefighters. 

Duties and responsibilities

The primary responsibility is to provide patients with first aid and life-supporting care. They are usually the ones to transport patients to the hospital. They respond to emergency calls and are required to make sound judgments and act quickly in stressful situations. 

EMTs assess the patient’s injuries, determine the proper emergency care, and manage treatment. Some EMTs are trained to insert IV lines, administer drugs, apply pacemakers, and give CPR. All prospective EMTs must complete EMT certification by taking the necessary courses to learn these skills.

Work environment

EMTs work both indoors and outdoors and in all types of weather conditions. They have strenuous physical working conditions and commonly work in metropolitan areas. Most of the work is done in the field and while commuting. 

Typical work hours

Many EMTs are full-time employees; some work more than 40 hours weekly. Shifts can vary in length; some may be 12 or 24-hour shifts. EMTs are needed every day of the week, so the schedule can vary from week to week to help with coverage. EMTs will likely cover shifts on some holidays, nights, and weekends.

How to become an EMT

In order to become an EMT, you will need a combination of education, training, and experience. In this career guide section, we cover the steps you’ll need to take to achieve your goal:

Step 1: Earn your high school diploma

EMTs must have earned at least their high school diploma. The career path does not require a college degree, but additional classes are required. Getting a high school diploma is the first step, and graduates can immediately start the work to become an EMT.

Step 2: Receive CPR certifications

Many medical professionals need Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) certification, including EMTs. It may help to have CPR certification before beginning your other EMT certification. You can gain this online or in person. The American Red Cross offers certification courses for anyone, and they offer recertification if required for your job. 

Step 3: Receive EMT certifications

Programs for emergency medical technicians take about six months to complete. The courses will cover the roles and responsibilities of emergency service professionals. You’ll learn how to assess patients safely and transport them to a hospital or healthcare facility. Information about medical and legal standards is also part of these training programs. You can find in-person or online courses.

Step 4: Pass the National Registry Emergency Medical Technician Exam

While each state has its own requirements to become a licensed EMT, most require you to pass the National Registry Emergency Medical Technician Exam. It is a two-part exam. One section is cognitive, and the other is a hands-on psychomotor exam that covers various important topics. It ensures you know how to manage shock, control bleeding, manage cardiac arrests, assess patients, and provide ventilation procedures. The test is difficult and requires studying, good preparation, and knowledge of the material. 

Step 5: Apply for jobs and continue your education

Once you’ve become a certified EMT, you can apply for jobs with local hospitals and healthcare organizations. You can advance to additional levels with additional training and education, including intermediate and advanced. Many EMTs continue on to become paramedics and registered nurses. 

How much do EMTs make?

There are many variables that go into determining how much an EMT makes, from company size to experience to education just to name a few. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the top-paying places of employment and specific industries for emergency medical technicians are (shown in annual mean salary):

  • General medical and surgical hospitals; private – $36,590
  • Local government, excluding education and hospitals – $36,400
  • Administrative, support, waste management, and remediation services – $36,350
  • General medical and surgical hospitals; local – $30,550
  • Other ambulatory healthcare services – $30,160

The top-paying states for emergency medical technicians to work in are (shown in annual mean salary):

  • Hawaii – $55,600
  • Alaska – $51,330
  • Maryland – $50,770
  • District of Columbia – $48,500
  • Illinois – $44,460

Browse emergency medical technician salary data by market

Types of EMTs

Each state has a slightly different system for emergency medical technicians and the levels of certifications required to perform tasks. Generally, it all follows a similar pattern, which we will outline. For more information, check your state’s guidelines.

EMT Basic

EMT Basic is entry-level. You’ll know basic life-saving techniques and first aid at this level. Typically, people at this level are paired with someone at a higher level and can drive the ambulance. The role is to stabilize patients, provide first-aid, and transport them to the hospital.

EMT Intermediate

EMT Intermediates are trained in additional medical procedures. With this level of certification, you’ll be able to clear airways, use a defibrillator, assess heart function, and administer medications. It requires additional coursework and experience to move to this level.

EMT Advanced

The top tier of EMTs before becoming paramedics is the EMT Advanced. This level can do more work independently, help with IVs, perform suction after a patient has been intubated, and more. Each level requires training, classes, and an examination to show your competency. 

Top skills for EMTs

Emergency medical technicians require at least a high school diploma plus the required hours of coursework. It is also essential to have a clean criminal record and a good driving record if you drive an ambulance. Each state has its own requirements for EMT certification, but in most, you will have to pass the exam and pay your license fees. 

Along with your education, it’s important to have strong verbal communication skills. You’ll be working with a partner in most cases, so the ability to work well with others and take feedback is crucial. A strong desire to help others is a driving force for many who become EMTs. You’ll need to be able to work under pressure and think and act quickly in an emergency. 

The job also has a physical aspect. EMTs must be strong enough to help move patients safely and carry equipment. For most jobs, it’s required to be able to lift at least 50 lbs. Sitting, standing, and being flexible is also good because the job can require long hours and spending time in uncomfortable positions.

Career path

EMT training is an excellent introduction to the healthcare field. Basic EMT training allows you to get experience in the field quickly. EMTs can go on to become paramedics, who typically perform additional services in the field that EMTs are not qualified to do, like IV lines and collapsed airways. 

Another common career path for an EMT is to become a registered nurse. It requires additional schooling, but the initial training and patient experience are a great start. There is a shortage of nurses currently, so it’s a great path to follow. 

You can apply for a job as the medical assistant in a hospital or doctor’s office if you want to gain additional experience without requiring a college degree. The work environment is less stressful than the EMT, but you can still utilize your medical knowledge and skills.  

Burnout and mental health struggles are common among emergency service workers, so administrators must make programs and services available to those who need help. Spreading out shifts and ensuring appropriate staffing levels will help with those issues, so the field will continue to see strong hiring patterns.

Technology is also shifting in the medical field, with social media and telemedicine adding value. Still, it will not replace the primary role of EMTs, caring for people in medical emergencies.

Employment projections for EMTs

EMTs will be in high demand in the future. Job growth estimates show around 24% more EMT jobs over the next ten years. As the Baby Boomer population is aging, they will require more emergency services due to things like heart attack, stroke, falls, and other medical emergencies. 

EMT career tips

Emergency medical technicians have a tough job. Once you’ve completed the education and received your certification, you can do a few other things to help you become stronger in your role and more desirable to potential employers. 

Soft skills and traits for EMTs

EMTs need to practice self-care on off days. The job can be stressful and challenging, so being diligent about taking care of yourself is important. Stay hydrated. Keep a water bottle handy at all times. Taking care of others requires you to take care of yourself as well. Keep a well-balanced diet and drink enough water. 

Continue learning. Try and take something new away from each patient interaction. Learn about new medicines and situations and remember to research anything you don’t understand. Ask your patient’s name and use it often. It helps reassure them that they are in good hands. It will also help you do a more effective handoff at the hospital.

Commonly required skills and qualifications

Review your assessment checklist often. How quickly can you take vitals? Does your partner do something differently? You can study videos of other EMTs taking vitals on YouTube to see other techniques. Become familiar with your location. So many people rely on Google Maps now to get anywhere, but if you’re driving the ambulance, you’ll want to be comfortable with the hospital routes and know the fastest ways to get there. 

Study your equipment. Make sure you know how to work all the different tools you have access to. Something as simple as a battery charger could be a life-saving device. Keep a clean and organized vehicle. Many teams share an ambulance with others, so ensure you always clean and restock the vehicle at the end of your shift, just like you would want someone to do for you. 

Develop a professional network

Networking with other EMTs can be extremely helpful to your career growth and continued education. Here are a few fantastic networks for EMTs:

  • International Association of EMTs and Paramedics (IAEP)
  • National Association of Emergency Medical Technicians (NAEMT)
  • American Ambulance Association (AAA)
  • National Association of EMS Educators (NAEMSE)
  • LinkedIn Professional Groups

Where the jobs are


  • US Army
  • US Air Force
  • Northwell Health
  • UCHealth
  • Atlantic Health System


  • New Jersey
  • Delaware
  • West Virginia
  • District of Columbia
  • New Hampshire

job sites

  • Indeed
  • LinkedIn
  • Dice
  • Careerbuilder
  • Monster


What is an EMT?

The emergency medical technician (EMT) responds to requests for medical assistance and delivers high-quality patient care. This care needs to be given in the most expedient, professional, safe, and cost-effective manner within the prescribed scope of practice. 

Is it hard to become an EMT?

Becoming an EMT requires becoming certified and taking specific courses about life-saving techniques. You’ll take an exam and become licensed within your state. The exam can be challenging, so studying and preparing are crucial.

Do you have to be strong to be an EMT?

EMTs need to be able to transport patients safely. You should be comfortable lifting and pushing at least 50 pounds and have the stamina to stand for long periods of time. Much of the job is physical, so being in good shape is important.

How much schooling does it take to be an EMT?

Becoming an EMT requires an average of 120 – 150 hours of training. Once the training is complete, there’s an exam that needs to be passed to get their license. 

Do EMTs make a lot of money?

EMT salaries are lower than other healthcare jobs. The role requires minimal schooling and training. Many rural communities use volunteers to fill these roles, lowering overall wages in the role. Many EMTs also act as CPR instructors and other part-time roles to make additional wages. 

Are EMTs different than doctors?

EMTs are not doctors or nurses. They receive a lower level of training and aren’t allowed to do treatments that break a patient’s skin. EMTs help get patients’ emergency care en route to the hospital and can perform CPR and some basic life-saving techniques. 

Do EMTs drive ambulances?

Most ambulance drivers are certified EMTs or paramedics. Some areas still do not require any medical training to drive the ambulance, but it’s becoming fewer and fewer. Most ambulance drivers have at least basic EMT training. 

What is the difference between an EMT and a paramedic?

Paramedics are at the highest level of pre-hospital care and require more training than EMTs. Depending on the state requirements, it usually requires at least one to two years of training and education.

Are most EMTs male?

According to the Firefighter Insider, about 30% of EMTs are females, with a larger percentage of new recruits being female than ever before. Women are just as capable as men in this role. Some of the reasons it might have been historically more common for men are the required shift work and the amount of physical labor needed. 

How hard is the EMT exam?

The exam to become licensed as an EMT is not easy, it requires studying and completing appropriate coursework and training. About one-third of people taking the exam do not pass, so it’s important to put in the work. There is a three-strikes policy, so you only have three chances to take it and pass. 

What exactly does an EMT do?

EMTs provide first-aid to patients in emergencies. They help transport patients safely in an ambulance to the hospital or other healthcare facilities. EMTs communicate the treatment and observations from the scene with doctors and nurses when they transfer the patients from their care.

Do EMTs always have a partner?

Typically, emergency medical technicians work in pairs or groups of three. For long shifts, they can take turns getting rest while someone is listening for a call. It’s also important to have someone who can drive the vehicle while someone else can help the patient.