How To Become an EMT: Education, Skills and Salaries

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated July 7, 2022 | Published February 4, 2020

Updated July 7, 2022

Published February 4, 2020

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

An emergency medical technician (EMT) is an important professional in the medical and health care industry. EMTs are at the forefront of emergency medical care and serve roughly 30 million Americans each year. Becoming an EMT requires training and experience that can take anywhere from six months to three years to complete, depending on specialization.

In this article, we will explore what an EMT does as well as outline the requirements and skills needed to become an EMT.

What is an EMT?

An EMT is a trained professional who provides emergency care outside of a hospital. EMTs work in a variety of settings and are often the first at the scene in emergency situations, and therefore are referred to as "first responders."

They have specialized training and the skills required to administer basic to life-saving emergency medical care while transporting patients to hospitals and other medical centers. This is a high-stakes profession that demands unwavering dedication to saving lives.

What does an EMT do?

EMTs provide medical attention outside of a hospital to sick or injured individuals. They most often respond to emergency calls and transport individuals to medical facilities. Most EMTs operate out of ambulances and are directed to emergency situations by 911 operators.

An EMT might provide their services in situations as varied and traumatic as natural disasters, car accidents and at-home emergencies. An EMT's primary responsibility is to address and deal with symptoms, illnesses and trauma by stabilizing individuals during their transport to a medical center.

Related: Differences Between EMTs and Paramedics

How to become an EMT

The EMT profession does not require you to hold an associate's or bachelor's degree. However, you will need to have a high school diploma or pass the GED. You will then need to go onto EMT training, which includes CPR certification and a state-approved emergency medical technology education program. EMTs also have the option to complete more advanced training or pursue a two-year degree to further their careers.

To become an EMT, follow these steps:

1. Finish basic education requirements

Aspiring EMTs must have a high school diploma or a GED certificate to be eligible for this profession. If you have not completed high school or have missing courses needed to obtain a diploma, consider studying for and taking the GED.

2. Become CPR certified

Most EMT training programs require individuals to have already completed cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) training and hold a current CPR certification. Several organizations, such as the American Red Cross, offer both in-person and online CPR courses.

3. Complete an EMT program

You must complete an accredited program to be considered for an EMT position. This certification program will provide in-depth training in emergency medical practices and technology and must be approved by your state. If you are unsure which program you should pursue, visit the National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians site for a complete list of accredited EMT programs in your state.

4. Pass the cognitive exam

All aspiring EMTs must successfully complete the cognitive exam offered by the National Registry of Emergency Technicians. This test is computer-based and consists of 70-120 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.

You will 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, you must pass an EMT psychomotor exam that is offered by your state's local training organizations or an emergency medical office.

This exam tests your ability to perform a wide variety of emergency skills such as cardiac arrest management, bleeding control, joint dislocation and bone fracture immobilization and supplemental oxygen administration. Your state's EMT office should be able to inform you where you can take this test and what is required to pass.

Once you have successfully completed all of the above steps, you are eligible to apply for and obtain a job as an EMT within your state. Remember to keep your credentials current and continue to train. EMTs and paramedics should have current certifications in first aid and CPR, as well as advanced cardiovascular life support. They must also have a current driver's license.

Skills for EMTs

EMTs must have several key skills to be successful on the job. A primary skill that they need is the ability to make quick and accurate decisions. Because EMTs work in emergency situations that may involve life or death, being able to make an educated and swift judgment can potentially save someone's life. Additional skills that EMTs should have include:

Communication

EMTs work with and interact with different people every day, often in stressful emergency situations. To communicate effectively and clearly is important to an EMT's ability to both receive and share important information as well as coordinate with medical centers and other medical professionals and first responders. Having good interpersonal communication skills can help an EMT succeed when working as part of a team as well as enable them to relate to patients.

Compassion

An EMT must be able to show compassion when working with individuals who are in emotionally and physically stressful situations. Having compassion allows an EMT to remain present in the moment and help provide comfort to their patients.

Physical strength

A person working as an EMT is often required to perform a variety of physical tasks that may require strength, stamina and coordination. For example, an EMT may need to lift a patient from the ground to a gurney or contort their own body to reach a person stuck in a vehicle.

EMT salary and outlook

The average salary for an EMT is $49,367 per year. Salaries vary by state with New York, NY, in the lead for the highest median EMT salary. An EMT's salary may also be affected by the industry they choose to work in, such as at a hospital, an ambulance service or as part of the local government.

According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment of EMTs and paramedics is projected to grow 6% by 2030, which is faster than the average for all occupations. Both a growing and aging population will require more emergency services.

Related: How To Become an EMT Volunteer

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