Home / Career Guides / Paramedic

Paramedic Career Guide

What is a paramedic?

A paramedic is a highly skilled and trained healthcare professional responsible primarily for providing pre-hospital emergency medical care. They are the first line of medical assistance in emergency situations where time is crucial, with the main goal to stabilize and safely transport patients to a medical facility for further treatment. Their unique role is generally in high-pressure situations, which demands a calm demeanor, quick decision-making, and advanced knowledge of life-support techniques.

Their value in healthcare and to the community they serve is immeasurable. Serving as members of the front-line health responders, they are often the difference between life and death in critical incidents. They have a wide knowledge of medical emergencies and the skillset to intervene in life-threatening situations, reassuring the community that immediate, capable help is available.

Duties and responsibilities

Paramedics have various responsibilities revolving around emergency medical care. Their primary duty is to respond promptly to emergency medical calls, assess the patient’s condition, and provide necessary pre-hospital care. This can include performing procedures like cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), administering medications and intravenous fluids, applying splints, and other essential emergency interventions. They are also responsible for deciding whether to transport the patient to a hospital or other medical facility, considering the severity of the condition.

Aside from active medical duties, these professionals are responsible for documenting all actions and observations during the call, including patient information, medical history, and treatment. They are also in charge of maintaining and checking the condition of emergency vehicles and equipment, ensuring they are always in optimal working condition. Communication with other healthcare professionals, patients’ family members, and law enforcement is another integral part of their role.

Work environment

Paramedics mostly work in outdoor environments as they respond to various emergency calls. They might be called to people’s homes, businesses, public places, or scenes of accidents. The nature of their work can be physically demanding as they may lift and carry heavy equipment or patients and endure long periods of standing. Additionally, they frequently operate under stressful and emotionally challenging circumstances, attending to severe injuries, patients in trauma, or life-threatening situations.

Typical work hours

Work hours for paramedics can be lengthy and irregular, given the nature of emergency medical services, which are needed around the clock. They may work on a shift basis, including nights, weekends, and holidays. Overtime is common, as emergencies can occur at any time. Therefore, these professionals should be ready to work outside the typical 9 to 5 schedule and must be adaptable to unexpected changes in their shift hours.

How to become a paramedic

This career guide section outlines the process of becoming a paramedic. The journey demands extensive education and training, including acquiring an EMT certification, completing a paramedic training program, and acquiring state and national certifications.

Step 1: Obtain a high school diploma or GED

The first step is to finish high school or earn a GED. This is typically a requirement for most paramedic training programs. Having a strong foundation in reading comprehension, math, and science can be beneficial in your training.

Step 2: Gain CPR certification

The next step is to get certified in CPR. This certification is often required to enroll in an emergency medical technician (EMT) training program. You can usually obtain CPR certification through organizations like the American Heart Association or Red Cross.

Step 3: Complete EMT basic training program

After obtaining a CPR certification, the next step is to complete an EMT basic training program. This program provides fundamental education and training on life support skills and patient assessments. These programs often include classroom learning, lab work, and field experience in an ambulance or hospital setting.

Step 4: Pass the NREMT

Upon completing the EMT training, you must pass the National Registry Emergency Medical Technician (NREMT) certification examination. This includes both a cognitive and psychomotor exam to demonstrate proficiency in essential emergency care skills.

Step 5: Gain field experience as an EMT

After obtaining certification, gaining field experience by working as an EMT is recommended. This experience gives you hands-on knowledge of emergency care, boosting your competence and preparing you for the rigors of a paramedic program.

Step 6: Complete training program

The next step is to enroll in and complete a paramedic training program, often available through community colleges, universities, or dedicated training centers. These programs typically involve intense coursework, including anatomy, pathophysiology, and advanced life support, complemented with practical experience in a hospital or ambulance setting.

Step 7: Pass the paramedic-level NREMT exam

After completing the training program, you must pass the paramedic-level NREMT exam. This includes a cognitive and psychomotor component, testing higher level competencies, critical thinking, and complex decision-making abilities.

Step 8: Obtain state licensure

The final step is to obtain your state licensure. Each state has its own licensure process, so you have to check with your state’s health or EMS department. This usually involves submitting your NREMT certificate and meeting any additional requirements your state might have.

How much do paramedics make?

Paramedic salaries will vary by experience, industry, education, location, and organization size. Particular elements that influence their compensation include the level of emergency medical skills, years in the field, additional certifications, and the type of emergency medical services organization they work for.

Highest paying industries

  • State Government – $62,550
  • Colleges, Universities, and Professional Schools – $58,980
  • Medical and Diagnostic Laboratories – $57,720
  • Office Administrative Services – $56,760
  • Social Advocacy Organizations – $55,870

Highest paying states

  • Hawaii – $56,610
  • Washington – $56,140
  • Alaska – $55,670
  • Connecticut – $54,780
  • Minnesota – $53,450

Browse paramedic salary data by market

Types of paramedics

Below, we explore common career types and specializations for paramedics. This section provides a comprehensive look into the diverse areas these healthcare professionals may choose to focus on throughout their careers.

Flight paramedic

Individuals in this role provide pre-hospital critical care to patients during aeromedical evacuation or rescue operations aboard helicopter and propeller aircraft or jet aircraft. This niche requires advanced training in emergency medical practice as well as the ability to cope with the challenges presented by the aeromedical environment, like noise, vibration, and the need to perform complex medical procedures in a confined space.

Firefighter paramedic

In addition to providing emergency medical care, firefighter paramedics employ firefighting techniques. This dual role typically involves responsibility for fire suppression duties, rescue operations, and emergency medical services at the scene of a fire or accident. Training for this specialization includes learning how to use firefighting equipment, handle hazardous materials, and respond to life-threatening situations.

Critical care paramedic (CCP)

CCPs are typically involved in transporting critically ill patients between facilities. A higher level of training allows these professionals to administer a greater range of medications and perform more advanced medical procedures. They often function as part of a critical transport team alongside a registered nurse or respiratory therapist.

Tactical paramedic

Called upon in high-risk, potentially hostile situations, tactical paramedics work closely with law enforcement agencies. They provide emergency medical care in various tactical environments, such as hostage situations, terrorist incidents, or large-scale disturbances. The role requires unique skills associated with tactical movement, extractions, and scene safety.

Community paramedic

Community paramedics play a more preventive role in healthcare. They serve in environments not typically associated with emergency care, such as homes or community centers. Their work aims to improve access to care, manage chronic diseases, and reduce hospital readmissions. To effectively perform this role, these paramedics need to understand community health resources and social determinants of health.

Wilderness paramedic

This role involves providing emergency medical care in remote or rugged environments. Wilderness paramedics must be equipped with skills in survival, navigation, communication, and equipment improvisation. They often work with organizations conducting wilderness expeditions, search and rescue operations, or disaster management activities.

Top skills for paramedics

This career guide section outlines the skills and abilities that will help you find success as a paramedic.

Medical knowledge

It’s important to understand the human body’s basic anatomy and physiology in this role. You must also know how to evaluate patients for various illnesses and injuries to deliver proper care quickly. Ongoing learning is needed to stay updated with the latest medical protocols and techniques in emergency medicine.

Physical stamina

These professionals often face physically demanding situations that require strength and endurance, such as lifting and moving patients, administering CPR, or operating heavy equipment. Maintaining personal health and fitness can help reduce the risk of injury in these scenarios.

Problem-solving skills

When faced with a medical emergency, quick thinking and problem-solving are key. As a paramedic, you’ll need to assess patients’ conditions quickly and determine the best course of action under pressure. This demands a high level of competence, decisiveness, and confidence.

Interpersonal skills and empathy

You’ll often be dealing with individuals who are in distress or pain, and being able to provide empathetic care can make a significant difference. Effective communication with patients, their families, and other healthcare professionals is also essential.

Stress management

The nature of this work can be extremely stressful, dealing regularly with life-or-death situations. Managing stress, staying composed, and making clear decisions during crises is essential. In addition, finding healthy ways to cope with the emotional demands of the job can contribute to long-term career success.

Paramedic career path options

As a paramedic, various career development and progression options are available. Typically, with experience and further training, they can choose several pathways to grow professionally.

Specializations and leadership roles

Specialization in critical care, community health, or emergency response coordination are some of the avenues these professionals can explore. Additionally, moving into leadership roles within emergency medical services, like a team leader or operations manager, provides additional opportunities for professional growth. These roles usually involve supervisory duties and require strong leadership and management skills.

Education and training roles

Another possible progression route is education and training. Experienced paramedics often get involved in training newer emergency medical technicians and paramedics. This can lead to roles such as a training officer, a lecturer in a university setting, or a development officer responsible for continuous professional development.

Non-clinical roles

They may also opt to pursue non-clinical roles within healthcare and related industries. Positions in health and safety, occupational health, and health policy are possible career transitions that can be both rewarding and impactful. Securing roles in these fields may require additional education and training, but they allow for continued contribution to public health and safety in a different capacity.

Research and global health roles

Involvement in research is another potential career development path. Contributing to medical science through research can lead to advancements in pre-hospital care and emergency medicine. On the other hand, global health roles are gaining significance with international humanitarian organizations, offering the opportunity to work in crisis zones around the world.

Over recent years, several trends have greatly influenced this profession. The most significant ones include the constant advancement in emergency medical technology, augmented online training programs, and the growing emphasis on mental health support for emergency workers. This influx of technological breakthroughs has reshaped how these professionals perform their duties, resulting in more effective on-site procedures and improved patient outcomes.

One of the major shifts for these healthcare professionals has been influenced by digital trends. The proliferation of online training programs has offered these workers increased accessibility to further education and advancement opportunities. This ensures continuous professional development without significantly interrupting their work schedule. The introduction of virtual reality into training modules also provides a closer replication of real-life emergency scenarios, consequently benefiting skill acquisition and decision-making abilities.

Employment projections

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics forecasts the employment of emergency professionals to grow by 7 percent through 2031. This is as fast as the average for all occupations. This growth is primarily due to the aging of the baby-boomer population, leading to an increase in age-related emergencies. The need for individuals trained to respond and provide medical assistance in emergencies also continues to grow.

Paramedic career tips

Enhance your medical knowledge

Paramedics operate in high-stress environments, making a solid foundation in medical knowledge a crucial part of career success. Continually learn about the latest medical procedures, guidelines, and skills. Keep an eye on breakthroughs in emergency medicine and adapt your knowledge accordingly to provide the best care possible to patients.

Become proficient in using medical equipment

Proficiency in using medical equipment can make a significant difference in emergencies. Practice using various pieces of equipment regularly and stay updated with any innovations in medical technology that could be integrated into your performance on the job field.

Pursue relevant certifications

Certifications expand your skill set and make you more desirable to potential employers. Research which certifications would benefit your career growth and seek them out.

Build a professional network

Networking is an effective way to uncover job opportunities, gain insight from experienced professionals, and bounce off ideas with peers. Associations offer a space for these connections to be made and for discussions on key industry topics to be held. You might find these organizations worth checking out:

  • National Association of Emergency Medical Technicians (NAEMT)
  • American Paramedic Association
  • International Association of EMTs and Paramedics

Engage in continuous learning

Sustained career success as a paramedic demands a commitment to learning. Consider the following ideas for continuous growth and advancement:

  • Attend seminars/webinars on advancements in emergency medical response techniques
  • Read publications that focus on emergency medicine
  • Undertake training in specialized fields such as pediatrics, cardiology, or trauma
  • Participating in scenario-based training exercises to refine your problem-solving skills

Where the paramedic jobs are

Top employers

  • Acadian Ambulance Service, Inc.
  • Falck North America, Inc.
  • American Medical Response
  • MedicOne Medical Response

Top states

  • California
  • Florida
  • Illinois
  • Pennsylvania
  • Georgia

Top job sites

  • zengig
  • Indeed
  • LinkedIn
  • EMS1 Jobs
  • SimplyHired


What type of education or certification is needed to work as a paramedic?

They typically require a postsecondary educational program, which can be found in community colleges and technical schools. This usually takes one to two years to complete. After finishing their program, they must pass the National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians exam, which is the certifying body for these professionals.

Is being a paramedic a physically demanding job?

Yes, it can be physically challenging. They often work in unpredictable environments and must react swiftly to emergencies. The job often requires lifting patients or heavy equipment, long periods of physical exertion, and other strenuous tasks. Good physical fitness is considered a key requirement.

What kind of shifts could I expect as a paramedic?

Shift timings can vary widely in this field, and they often work irregular hours, including nights, weekends, and holidays. Shifts can be 12 to 24 hours long, and in some cases, they work on-call and need to be ready to respond to emergencies at a moment’s notice.

What stress can be associated with a job as a paramedic?

Due to the nature of the job, it can be quite stressful. They must deal with high-pressure situations, critical decision-making under tension, and potentially traumatic events. Dealing with patients in distress and their families can also be emotionally demanding. It’s vital to find proper coping mechanisms and have a strong support system in place to deal with this aspect of the role.

What is the typical work environment for a paramedic?

The work environment can vary from one call to the next. They respond to emergencies, which may occur at homes, workplaces, or public spaces. They can also work in varying weather conditions. While not attending to emergencies, they might be on standby at specific locations, awaiting the next call, or at a medical facility dropping off patients.

What skills are important for success as a paramedic?

Apart from technical medical knowledge, strong communication skills are important as they interact with patients, families, and other healthcare professionals. Empathy and a calming demeanor can be helpful when dealing with distressed patients. Other key skills include problem-solving, quick decision-making, and reacting efficiently under pressure.

What are the opportunities for advancement as a paramedic?

With experience and further training, they can move into more senior positions, such as advanced or specialist paramedics, where they might specialize in a particular area like cardiac care or trauma. There are also opportunities to move into leadership roles, such as supervisors or operations managers. Some choose to transition into related healthcare roles or teaching positions within paramedic science.

What additional training or experiences are beneficial to paramedics?

Apart from the basic certification, certain experiences and skills can boost their proficiency. Emergency driving skills, specific medical or trauma care experiences, experience working in a high-pressure situation, or volunteer work in related fields can be beneficial. Additional certifications in critical care or pediatric care can also be a plus.

Is continuous learning a major part of a paramedic’s job?

Continuous learning is an integral part of any healthcare profession, including paramedicine. They must stay updated on new techniques, medications, and equipment and maintain their certification by fulfilling continuing education requirements determined by the certifying body. Regular training on new protocols and procedures is also common in this field.