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Differences Between EMTs and Paramedics

October 7, 2019

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If you want to pursue a rewarding career that focuses on providing urgent care to sick or injured people, consider becoming an emergency medical technician (EMT) or a paramedic. Although both types of professionals specialize in emergency care, their jobs and qualifications are distinct from one another.

In this article, we discuss the differences between EMTs and paramedics to help you decide which career suits your goals and interests.

What is an EMT?

An EMT is a health care professional who provides assistance during emergency medical situations, including assessing patients’ medical conditions and providing first aid. They also offer life support treatments, drive ambulances to transport patients to medical facilities and document the care they provide. Most EMTs have the EMT-Basic credential, the first certification level for this profession.

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What is a paramedic?

Paramedics also respond to medical emergencies, but they are also trained to administer treatments, such as giving shots, inserting intravenous (IV) lines and placing breathing devices into patients’ airways. Paramedics can achieve the highest professional certification level, or EMT-Paramedic. This designation makes paramedics qualified to provide more complex medical care.

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Differences between an EMT and a paramedic

Although all paramedics are EMTs, only some EMTs are paramedics. The main differences between the two positions include:

Education and training

To pursue a paramedic or EMT career, you must earn a high school diploma or pass the General Educational Development (GED) exam. After finishing your high school education, you need to complete a college-level program in emergency medical technology. Along with offering classroom-style instruction on medical conditions and treatment, these programs include hands-on paramedic and EMT training information.

EMT programs usually include 120 to 150 hours of training. Aspiring EMTs can typically complete this program in one year.

If you want to be a paramedic, you generally need to finish 1,200 to 1,800 training hours of a two-year technical program that awards an associate degree.

Related: Jobs That Don’t Require a Degree

Certifications and licenses

After mastering the fundamentals, emergency medical professionals need certification. All paramedics and EMTs must pass the National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians (NREMT) certification exam, which includes written and interactive components. Some states require their own NREMT exams in addition to, or instead of, the national certification test.

Both EMTs and paramedics also need a state license to work in the field. Each state has its own licensing requirements. Some simply require NREMT certification, while others require an additional exam.

EMTs and paramedics need cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) certification, which they typically obtain before applying for a professional program. Most emergency medical specialists also have licenses to drive ambulances, which requires about eight hours of instruction.

Finally, all emergency medical providers must complete a background check to work in this field. This ensures all EMTs and paramedics meet state eligibility requirements.

Related: 10 Six-Month Certificate Programs That Pay Well

Work schedules and environments

Most EMTs and paramedics work full-time jobs and often work 12-hour shifts a few days a week. Since emergency services are essential 24 hours a day, many EMTs and paramedics work overnight or on weekends.

They respond to emergency calls in a variety of settings. Both EMT and paramedic are fast-paced, high-pressure careers where workers interact with a number of different individuals, including patients, doctors and nurses and other emergency response professionals.

National average salaries

In most cases, EMTs and paramedics receive hourly wages rather than annual salaries. EMTs earn an average of $14.81 per hour. Typical salaries range from $7.25 to $38.55 per hour, depending on experience level and location.

Paramedics typically have higher salaries, as their hourly rate averages $19.58. Typical salaries range from $8.00 to $36.15 per hour.

Related careers

Paramedics and EMTs who want to advance their careers often have similar opportunities. After gaining two or more years of experience providing emergency medical care, these professionals might consider advancing to one of the following jobs.

  • National Average Salary:  $63,731 per year Primary Duties: As emergency experts, these professionals coordinate the work of first responders and oversee efforts surrounding natural disasters and other urgent situations. They also review and improve emergency plans and assess damage. Requirements: Emergency management directors need a bachelor’s degree in business, public administration or a similar field along with emergency management work experience. Many professionals in this field also earn an optional credential, such as a Certified Emergency Manager designation.
  • National Average Salary:  $33.63 per hour Primary Duties: Also known as RNs, these healthcare professionals treat patients and educate the public about medical concerns. They document medical histories, provide medication and assist with treatment plans. Some RNs specialize in certain areas of healthcare, such as emergency care or public health. RNs can find fast-paced work in emergency rooms and hospitals, but some RNs may choose to work in private practice alongside a physician. Requirements: RNs generally need an associate or bachelor’s degree in nursing and a license from their state board of nursing.
  • National Average Salary:  $104,306 per year Primary Duties: These medical professionals provide healthcare alongside physicians and surgeons. They are responsible for examining, diagnosing and treating patients. Physician assistants can also prescribe medications and educate patients about treatments. These medical professionals often work in hospitals, clinics or in private practice under a supervising physician. Requirements: Physician assistants typically need a master’s degree from an accredited institution, a license to practice in their state and an agreement to work with a supervising physician. Some positions may prefer experience as an EMT or paramedic.


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