How To Become an EMT in 5 Steps (With Types and Skills)

Updated May 26, 2023

An emergency medical technician (EMT) plays an important role in the medical and health care industry by providing life-saving care to patients in challenging situations. Becoming an EMT can take six months to three years, depending on your specialization and if you're attending courses full-time. Knowing more about the training and experience required for this role can help you plan your career path.

In this article, we discuss what an EMT is, what they do, how to become one, the skills required for success and the salary and job outlook for this occupation.

Please note that none of the companies mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.

Explore Emergency Medical Technician jobs on Indeed
View more jobs

What is an EMT?

An EMT is a trained medical specialist who provides emergency care outside a hospital. EMTs serve as first responders, working in various settings and are often the first at the scene in emergencies. They have specialized training and the skills to administer basic life support and emergency medical care while transporting patients to hospitals and other medical centers.

Read more: What's an EMT? (With Duties, Salary Info and Job Outlook)

What does an EMT do?

EMTs provide medical attention outside of a hospital to sick or injured individuals. They often respond to emergency calls and transport individuals to medical facilities. Many EMTs operate out of ambulances and are directed to emergencies by emergency dispatchers. They also address and care for symptoms, illnesses and trauma by stabilizing individuals during transport to a medical center.

An EMT might provide their services in situations as varied and traumatic as natural disasters, car accidents and at-home emergencies. Here are some other EMT responsibilities:

  • Performing first aid duties, like banding wounds and controlling hemorrhages

  • Serving as liaisons between patients and medical staff about their conditions and treatments

  • Helping with crowd control when arriving at emergency scenes

  • Driving medical vehicles safely and efficiently

  • Deciding where to take the patients, such as a trauma center or the emergency room (ER)

  • Assisting other medical experts with advanced life support procedures

  • Attending meetings and training sessions

Read more: FAQ: What Does an EMT Do? (Plus Skills and Salary)

How to become an EMT

Here are five steps you can take to become an EMT:

1. Finish basic education requirements

Many employers require aspiring EMTs to have at least a high school diploma or a GED certificate. If you have not completed high school or have missed courses required to obtain a diploma, consider studying for and taking the GED test.

EMTs also have the option to complete more advanced training or pursue a two-year degree to further their careers. Additionally, EMTs require a valid driver's license with a clean driving record.

Related: How Long Does It Take To Become an EMT? (And Other FAQs)

2. Become CPR certified

Many EMT training programs require individuals to hold a current cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) certification. Several organizations, such as the American Red Cross and the American Heart Association, offer students in-person and online CPR courses.

In these courses, you learn how to perform CPR as a one-person and two-person team with rescue breaths and hands-only CPR. Depending on the course, you can understand how to give shocks with an automated external defibrillator (AED).

Related: Basic Life Support (BLS): How To Earn Certification

3. Complete an EMT program

After you obtain your CPR certification, complete an accredited program. An EMT certification program provides in-depth training in emergency medical practices and technology approved by your state.

If you're unsure which EMT course to pursue, visit the National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians (NREMT) site for a complete list of accredited EMT training programs in your state.

Related: 12 Jobs You Can Pursue With an EMT Certification

4. Pass the cognitive exam

When you finish your EMT program, complete the cognitive exam offered by the NREMT. This test is computer-based, comprising 70 to 120 questions that cover various aspects of the emergency medical services an EMT is expected to perform, such as cardiology and resuscitation, respiration and ventilation and trauma care.

You have two hours to complete the exam and must meet a standard level of competency to pass.

5. Pass the psychomotor exam

In addition to the certification course and the cognitive exam, pass an EMT psychomotor exam offered by your state's local training organizations or an emergency medical office. This exam tests your ability to perform various emergency skills, such as cardiac arrest management, bleeding control, joint and bone fracture immobilization and supplemental oxygen administration. Your state's EMT office can tell you where to take this test and the required passing score.

Once you complete all the steps and training, you can apply for and obtain a job as an EMT within your state. Keep your credentials current and continue to train. EMTs and paramedics must have current first aid and CPR certifications, including advanced cardiovascular life support.

Different types of EMTs

Here are a few different types of EMT paths you can pursue:

EMT basic

An emergency medical technician-basic (EMT-B) is a trained individual who responds to medical emergency calls. Typically, these calls include providing immediate and effective medical care to those critically injured or sick on-site and during the ambulance ride. They also drive the patient to the nearest health care facility.

Additionally, these EMT-Bs may perform basic life support efforts for conditions including cardiac arrest and severe bleeding. Some equipment they use in this position includes:

  • Defibrillators

  • Electrocardiographs (EKGs) 

  • Backboards

EMT intermediate

Intermediate EMTs perform similar duties using the same equipment as EMTs at the basic level but may have more advanced training. Their advanced training can include using intravenous (IV) medications and airway devices efficiently and effectively.

Other duties and skills between intermediate and basic levels can vary by state, so research your state's requirements.

EMT paramedic

An EMT paramedic is the most advanced level of this occupation. They perform similar tasks as the first two levels and more complete care before the patient reaches the hospital. Paramedics can also administer more IV and oral medication to patients and complete EKGs and intubation processes.

Paramedics have varying requirements based on their state. Generally, an advanced EMT can earn an associate degree from a community college and complete their coursework in about four semesters. After that, they obtain their certification through the NREMT. The certification can last two to three years and requires continuing education.

Related: EMT vs. Paramedic: Which Path Is Right for You?

Skills for EMTs

EMTs have several skills to be successful on the job. A primary skill that they require is the ability to make quick and accurate decisions. Since EMTs work in life-or-death situations, making informed decisions quickly is crucial. Additional EMT skills to develop include:


EMTs work with and interact with different people daily, often in stressful emergencies. Communicating clearly as an EMT is critical because they receive and share vital information. They also coordinate with medical centers, other medical specialists and first responders. Effective interpersonal communication skills can help an EMT succeed when working as a team.


An EMT needs to show compassion and empathy when working with individuals in emotionally and physically stressful situations. Having compassion allows EMTs to remain present in the moment and help support and comfort their patients.

Physical strength

Often, a person working as an EMT performs various physical tasks requiring strength, stamina and coordination. For example, an EMT may lift a patient from the ground to a gurney or contort their own body to reach an individual stuck in a vehicle.

Are you looking for a job now?

Salary and job outlook for EMTs

The national average salary for an EMT is $45,099 per year. Your potential earnings may vary by location, education, experience, employer and skills. An EMT's wages may also get affected by the industry they choose to work in, such as at a hospital, an ambulance service or as part of the local government.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects employment of EMTs and paramedics to grow by 7% between 2021 and 2031. You may expect to see about 20,000 job openings annually.

For the most up-to-date salary information from Indeed, click on the link provided.

Is this article helpful?

Related Articles

What Is a Flight Medic? (A Definitive Guide)

Explore more articles

  • What Is Inductive Reasoning? Definitions, Types and Examples
  • 12 Reasons Why Internal Controls Are Important in Any Business
  • 6 Types of Adjusting Journal Entries (With Examples)
  • What Is 3 Sigma in Statistics? (And How To Find It)
  • 8 Steps To Create an Infographic on Powerpoint
  • 8 Ways To Take More Responsibility in the Workplace
  • Learn How To Get Into Pharmaceutical Sales
  • 8 Skills for Company Directors
  • Frequency: What It Is and How To Calculate It
  • How Long Does It Take To Become an Electrician?
  • 13 Best Game Engines for Beginners (With Features)
  • Step-By-Step Guide to Splitting Cells In Google Sheets