FAQ: Weighing the Differences Between Paramedic vs. Nurse

Updated December 9, 2022

If you are considering a job in health care taking care of people in need, you may be torn between two vital careers—that of paramedic or nurse. A close study of the qualifications and job responsibilities of each can help you determine which career path may be better suited to your background, interests and talents. In this article, we answer some frequently asked questions about paramedics and nurses, including what their job duties are and how the two professions differ.

Related: Learn About Being a Paramedic

What does a paramedic do?

A paramedic is a medical professional who is able to provide advanced emergency care to patients. Typically, a paramedic assesses the patient's immediate medical needs and attempts to stabilize the patient until the patient can receive more extensive and specialized care from a doctor. Paramedics are able to administer drugs to patients at the scene of an emergency as well as perform some invasive procedures such as respiratory procedures, stabilizing broken bones, cleaning wounds and administering intravenous fluids. They also receive training in reading X-rays, EKGs and lab results.

What is the difference between a paramedic and an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT)?

You may find the terms EMT and paramedic used interchangeably. This is because a paramedic is a type of EMT. However, not all EMTs are paramedics. There are three levels of EMT: EMT-Basic (EMT-B), EMT-Intermediate (EMT-I) and EMT-Paramedic (EMT-P). An EMT-P is often simply referred to as a paramedic and is the most highly trained of the three types:

  • EMT-B is an entry-level EMT. The EMT-B is able to perform basic emergency care such as CPR, splinting broken or fractured bones and operating an automated external defibrillator (AED). While an EMT-B may help a patient take prescribed medication, the EMT-B is not authorized to prescribe medication.

  • An EMT-I is able to perform all the functions of an EMT-B as well as being able to administer an IV and perform endotracheal intubation. In some states, an EMT-I may also prescribe a certain number of medications.

  • An EMT-P can perform all the functions of an EMT-I as well as many more. While an EMT-I receives 200 to 400 hours of training, EMT-P training can take at least two years.

Read more: Differences Between EMTs and Paramedics

What does a nurse do?

Nurses are health care professionals who assist physicians and other health care workers with the treatment of their patients. They perform a wide range of duties depending on their level of training. Most nurses administer medicine, perform tests, collect samples, check vital signs and facilitate communications between the patient and the patient's doctor. They also gather information from patients to determine their relevant medical history and discern their specific physical and emotional needs.

What are the difference between various types of nurses?

There are three different types of nurses: the Licensed Practical Nurse, the Registered Nurse and Advanced Practice Registered Nurses such as the Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS) and the Nurse Practitioner (NP). Each type of nurse has specific training and duties:

Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN)

LPN is an entry-level nursing position working under the supervision of an RN or a physician. An LPN's duties include changing dressings, monitoring patients, helping with tests and procedures, inserting catheters and working with RNs to provide consistent patient care. It normally takes a year to earn your LPN diploma, after which you can take the national NCLEX-PN exam. Once you are certified you can find employment in a variety of places such as hospitals, nursing homes, rehabilitation facilities and correctional facilities.

Related: Learn About Being a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN)

Registered Nurse (RN)

RN is a more advanced nursing position that requires more training and has additional duties. These include administering diagnostic tests, creating care plans for patients, administering IV medications and drawing blood. Depending on where you work, you might need to perform other tasks. For example, an RN working in an operating room might help with surgical procedures. To become an RN, you need an undergraduate degree in nursing and become licensed by passing the NCLEX-RN exam.

Related: What Does a Registered Nurse Do?

Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN)

APRNs are, essentially, RNs who have taken advanced training in specialty fields. They are normally primary caregivers and are able to diagnose and treat illnesses. In many states, APRNs can prescribe medication and see patients independently of physician supervision. To train in one of the four APRN disciplines (Clinical Nurse Specialist, Nurse Anesthetist, Certified Nurse Midwife and Nurse Practitioner), you need to be licensed as an RN. You also need at least a master's degree, preferably a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN).

Related: Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN) Career Guide

What is an LVN?

An LVN, or Licensed Vocational Nurse, is the term used in California and Texas for an LPN. The duties of LPNs and LVNs are virtually identical with a few exceptions depending on which state you are in.

Related: 10 Nursing Fields To Consider for Your Career

What are the differences between paramedics and nurses?

While there are many tasks and skills that paramedics and nurses have in common, such as delivering medical care to patients in emergency situations and being able to stay calm in high-stress environments, the two professions are very different. Some of the differences between paramedics and nurses include:

  • Nurses primarily care for patients in hospitals or medical facilities whereas paramedics treat patients at the site of an emergency. This affects their training since they each learn the skills necessary for their work environments.

  • The paramedic is responsible for the care of the patient from the site of the emergency to the hospital. The nurse then takes over the care of the patient, working with other medical professionals to develop a treatment plan from that time to whenever the patient leaves.

  • Paramedics have very little time to assess a patient's condition and treat the patient's immediate needs. While nurses also need to be able to respond quickly to emergency situations, once the patient is stable they have more time to assess the patient's ongoing medical needs.

  • Paramedics are more highly trained than LPNs, however, the 1,200 to 1,800 hours of schooling a paramedic receives is lower than the two to four years it usually takes to become an RN.

  • The paramedic's duties are mainly concerned with delivering emergency care to patients prior to arriving at the hospital. Nurses, particularly RNs, have a broader range of responsibilities that include emergency, convalescent and outpatient care.

What should you consider when deciding whether to become a paramedic or a nurse?

Both paramedics and nurses are health care professionals who do important, life-saving work. If you are interested in a career where you deliver vital physical assistance to people, either profession could give you job satisfaction. Which you choose may depend upon a number of factors to do with the work itself or your personality and the work environments you prefer. Some factors you should consider when deciding whether to become a paramedic or a nurse include:

  • Salary: A paramedic might earn more than an LPN. However, if you train to become an RN or an APRN, your salary may increase substantially, more than you would make as a paramedic.

  • Training time: A paramedic receives more training than an LPN, however RNs and ARPNs spend much more time in school than a paramedic.

  • Stress: Both nurses and paramedics work in high-stress jobs, however, the paramedic's stress may be limited to the scene of the incident and the time the paramedic is treating the patient. Nurses care for patients for a longer period of time so the stress of the situation might last longer.

  • Location: Paramedics travel to wherever they are needed, which means they are not confined to a single location and have the opportunity to experience working in different environments. Nurses mainly work in the same location every day.

  • Environment: Nurses mostly work in a clean, safe, temperature-controlled environment where they have access to all the tools and assistance they need. Paramedics are often called to environments that are less than ideal and have to manage traumatic situations with only the equipment they have with them.

Related: Learn About Being an ER Nurse

Can a paramedic become a nurse?

If you are a paramedic and would like to become a registered nurse, there are two main ways to redirect your career:

  1. Get an associate's degree in nursing (ADN) or a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) and then pass the NCLEX-RN exam to certify as a registered nurse.

  2. If you have some years of experience as a paramedic and would like to leverage that toward becoming a registered nurse, you can find a bridge program that can help you achieve your goal. These are accelerated programs that teach you the additional skills you need for an ADN or BSN while continuing to work as a paramedic. Once you complete the program, you can then take the NCLEX-RN.

Related: Earning Your Nursing License: 12 NCLEX Tips To Help You Pass


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