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Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) Career Guide

What is an emergency medical technician?

An emergency medical technician (EMT) is a frontline healthcare provider specifically trained to respond to emergency situations requiring medical treatment. EMTs are critical in the healthcare chain as they provide initial medical care for illnesses and injuries. They are often the first medical professionals on the scene, whether it’s an accident, sudden illness, or any other emergency that demands immediate medical attention.

Their primary role is to stabilize and transport patients to medical facilities for further treatment. They operate under high-pressure situations where rapid response can mean the difference between life and death. The intervention and care provided by EMTs are not only vital for patient survival but also for maintaining the quality of life after recovery.

Duties and responsibilities

EMTs are responsible for responding to emergency calls, performing medical services, and transporting patients to medical facilities. They assess the patient’s condition and provide necessary medical care, including administering first aid, CPR, or other life-saving interventions.

They are also responsible for using and maintaining various medical equipment like defibrillators and are trained to handle different emergencies, from childbirth to heart attacks. Additionally, they must complete necessary documentation and reports related to patient care and condition.

Work environment

EMTs work in a variety of settings but are most commonly found in ambulances, working with a partner or a team. They may also collaborate with firefighters, police, and other emergency response teams. Their work environment is often unpredictable and can vary from indoor settings to outdoor emergency scenes.

They may work in all types of weather conditions and environments, including homes, streets, commercial establishments, and anywhere else where emergency medical services are needed. The nature of their work is physically demanding and can be emotionally stressful.

Typical work hours

EMTs usually work full time, and their shifts can be long, often exceeding the typical 8-hour workday. They work in shifts that cover 24/7 emergency response, including weekends, holidays, and nights. Overtime is common, and the need for these professionals can increase during public events or major incidents, affecting their schedules. The scheduling can be unpredictable, requiring flexibility, commitment, and readiness to respond at any given time.

How to become an emergency medical technician

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

You must have earned at least a 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. 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 continue on to become paramedics and registered nurses. 

How much do emergency medical technicians 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.

Highest paying states

  • Hawaii – $57,600
  • Alaska – $53,330
  • Maryland – $52,770
  • District of Columbia – $50,327
  • Illinois – $46,460

Browse EMT salary data by market

Types of emergency medical technicians

Each state has a slightly different system for EMTs 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 before becoming a paramedic 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 emergency medical technicians

This section outlines the primary skills and traits needed for career success as an EMT. The following descriptions provide insights into the abilities anyone aspiring to this role should focus on developing.

Medical expertise

Understanding and applying medical procedures and protocols is a foundational skill for these professionals. Whether administering first aid, performing CPR, or operating emergency equipment, medical expertise is crucial for providing immediate and effective care. Mastery of medical techniques ensures that they can adapt to various situations, from traffic accidents to cardiac emergencies, and deliver the best possible care to patients.

Quick thinking

In emergency settings, seconds count. They must be able to quickly assess situations and make decisive actions based on the information available. Quick thinking allows them to prioritize tasks, rapidly diagnose problems, and apply appropriate treatments, often in high-stress or chaotic environments. This skill is vital for achieving the best patient outcomes in time-sensitive situations.

Emotional resilience

EMTs often encounter highly stressful and emotionally taxing situations. Maintaining emotional stability and making rational decisions in the face of trauma is essential. Emotional resilience also aids in self-care, helping these technicians cope with the psychological demands of their work, which in turn allows them to remain effective in their roles over the long term.

Effective communication

They are not isolated professionals but part of a larger healthcare and emergency response team. Clear and concise communication is critical when relaying patient information to doctors, nurses, and other emergency personnel. It’s also important for calming and informing patients or their families during crises. Effective communication ensures that vital information is accurately conveyed, enabling coordinated and comprehensive patient care.

Physical stamina

The role is physically demanding, requiring lifting, bending, and sometimes running while carrying heavy equipment. Physical stamina is essential for performing these tasks effectively, especially during long shifts or consecutive calls. Being physically fit enables them to endure the rigors of the job while minimizing the risk of injury or fatigue, which can compromise their effectiveness.

Emergency medical technician career path

EMT training is an excellent introduction to the healthcare field. Basic training allows you to get experience in the field quickly. They 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 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 a 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, 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 jobs over the next ten years. As the baby boomer population ages, they will require more emergency services due to heart attacks, strokes, falls, and other medical emergencies. 

Emergency medical technician 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 caring for 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 to 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:

  • 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 EMT jobs are

Top companies

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

Top states

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

Top job sites

  • Indeed
  • LinkedIn
  • Dice
  • Careerbuilder
  • Monster


What does an EMT do?

EMTs respond to requests for medical assistance and deliver 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 is 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. 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 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. They 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. They 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, EMTs 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.