When someone dials 911, the first responders that show up are typically emergency medical technicians (EMTs) or paramedics. But what is an EMT vs paramedic?
At first blush, it may seem like EMTs and paramedics are one and the same, since both provide emergency medical services. However, this is not the case — the two roles are different in many ways.
The roles require different levels of education, and also have different responsibilities when they’re in the field. An emergency medical technician provides basic medical care has responsibilities such as performing CPR and other basic life support.
On the other hand, paramedics are responsible for providing basic and advanced medical care through more complex medical procedures such as inserting IV lines and administering medication according to the patient’s condition.
If you’re interested in building a career in emergency medical services, it is essential to understand all the differences between these two roles before beginning an EMT training program. We have outlined the differences between the two roles below for your convenience.
In This Article
Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) Vs. Paramedic
EMTs and paramedics both work offer emergency medical assistance and are a part of emergency medical service teams. These teams comprise medical professionals that provide everything from basic medical services to advanced emergency medical care.
While both EMTs and paramedics can provide emergency medical care to patients that are being transported to a medical facility, only paramedics are qualified enough to provide advanced care.
What are EMTs and Paramedics?
Basic and advanced EMTs are the most common kind of first responders that are a part of emergency medical services teams. These professionals can provide emergency medical assistance and basic medical care.
These first responders are typically called when there has been a medical or traumatic emergency. EMTs first examine the injury and gauge the nature and severity. They then transfer the patient into a well-equipped vehicle and make their way to the medical facility.
On the way to the medical facility, these professionals inform the facility about the number of patients being brought in and the kind of care they need.
While the patient is being transported to the facility, EMTs monitor the condition of the patient and provide the medical care they require.
Paramedics are licensed medical professionals that have the skills required to provide advanced life support to patients on the way to the hospital. These pre-hospital service providers can provide medical care that is on par with the care offered in an emergency medical room.
Paramedics are more trained than EMTs and hence can treat acute illnesses and injuries better than EMTs. These professionals are knowledgeable about a range of subjects, including physiology, cardiology, and medication.
Both EMTs and paramedics are typically sent to emergency sites by 911 operators, and depending on the circumstances, these professionals may work alongside firefighters and the police.
The EMTs and paramedics working in emergency medical services face different challenges every day. That said, there are a lot of differences between the roles and responsibilities of EMTs and paramedics:
The responsibilities of an emergency medical technician include:
- Responding to medical emergency calls
- Assessing patients that require emergency care
- Stabilizing and treating patients in emergencies
- Delivering CPR, administering drugs, and providing other treatments to control bleeding and prevent shock and further injury
- Contacting medical facilities and informing them about the condition of the patients
- Transporting patients to medical facilities
- Maintaining patient records
- Keeping the patient still using backboards and restraints and ensuring patient safety in the ambulance
- Managing external bleeding
Paramedics possess the highest level of Emergency Medical Technician certification and are capable of delivering basic and advanced care. However, before completing a paramedic program, these professionals typically work as EMTs for 12 to 24 months. After they gain the required experience, they can undertake the 1,200 to 1,800 hours of training required to become a paramedic.
Besides performing an EMTs’ duties, these professionals also have the following responsibilities:
- Triage injuries when in the field to make sure those with the most severe injuries get medical attention first
- Create airways for patients that are unable to breathe
- Provide medication through IV or infusion
- Decompress collapsed lungs by sticking needles in the chest
- Restoring regular heartbeat using a defibrillator
- Using ventilation devices to provide breathing support
- Deliver babies in emergencies
- Bandaging patients as required and elevating the injured area to stop the bleeding
- Safely transporting patients to medical facilities
- Stabilize patients on the way to the hospital
- Keeping track of the type of medication administered to patients by maintaining records
- Using pacemakers to manage heart arrhythmia
Where Do EMTs and Paramedics Work?
An EMT is typically employed by hospitals, fire departments, and police departments. However, they also find work with governments and private ambulance services. It’s important to note that they work under the supervision of physicians or medical directors.
Paramedics also work in ambulance services and often work alongside EMTs to provide advanced life support. Usually, an emergency medical service team has more EMTs than paramedics.
However, paramedics can also work for air ambulances, since they are more qualified than EMTs. Air ambulances are helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft that are used to transfer patients to medical facilities quickly. Paramedics are also employed by fire services and EMS.
Differences in Education and Experience Requirements
Besides the day-to-day responsibilities, the key difference between EMTs and paramedics is the education and experience requirements.
Emergency Medical Technicians
Starting a career as an EMT is a lot easier than starting a career as a nurse or radiologic technologist. You do not need to earn an associate degree or bachelor’s degree to complete the training program.
You only require a high school diploma or a GED, and must then get a cardiopulmonary resuscitation certification. CPR certification is offered by organizations such as the American Red Cross. You can also get this certification from the American Heart Association.
A candidate must be at least 18 years old and have a driver’s license to take the required EMT program to become an EMT.
It’s important to note that almost every state requires EMT training programs to have a CPR program. Without one, you will likely not qualify for becoming a licensed EMT.
Next, you will need to complete an EMT training program, which typically takes 150 hours to complete. These programs are offered at community colleges and vocational schools.
Finally, after your training is complete, you will need to pass the National Registry Emergency Medical Technicians exam. This cognitive exam has between 60 and 110 questions, and you have two hours to answer the questions. There is no fixed passing mark per se, and to pass, you will need to meet the standard level of competency that is determined by the NREMT.
There may be additional requirements to become an EMT depending on the state you live in. For instance, to become an EMT in Massachusetts, a candidate must pass the psychomotor exam administered by the Massachusetts Office of Medicine. That said, most states recognize the NREMT certification as a guarantee of competency.
You can begin practicing after you meet your state’s requirements for becoming an EMT. But regardless of which state you practice in, you will need to renew your NREMT certification every two years.
The EMT National Continued Competency Program requires candidates to complete 40 hours of continuing education to renew their certification.
Paramedics possess the highest level of EMT certification. Before becoming a paramedic, a candidate must complete basic and advanced EMT training, besides some additional studies.
A prospective paramedic typically works as an EMT for between one and two years so they can gain the experience require to qualify for paramedic advanced training. After earning the experience, aspiring paramedics undertake 1200 to 1800 hours of training. Only after their training is complete, they become a paramedic. This extended training period is one of the main differences between EMTs and paramedics.
Completing a paramedic program and earning an associate or bachelor’s degree typically takes two years. After the training program is complete, candidates must pass the National Paramedic Certification exam.
But it’s important to note that earning the national certification does not guarantee that a candidate can practice. Besides passing the national exam, candidates are required to meet their state’s licensing requirements before they can begin practicing.
While most states grant paramedics licenses when they pass the national certification exam, others require candidates to pass state tests before they can practice.
A prospective paramedic must be at least 18 years old and have a high school diploma or equivalent to receive the training. Having a valid driver’s license and a CPR certification is also a must.
The National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians requires candidates to renew their certification every two years to continue practicing.
Per the NCCP, candidates must complete 60 hours of continuing education to get recertified.
According to data by Salary.com, the median annual salary for EMTs is $37,530, which works out to $18.04 per hour. However, the most experienced and qualified EMTs earn upwards of $46,757 per year.
On the other hand, data by Salary.com indicates that paramedics earn an average annual salary of $46,045. This works out to $22.14 per hour. On the upper end, paramedics earn a salary of upwards of $56,817.
In other words, there’s roughly a $20,000 difference in the average salary of these professionals. It is also important to note that the salary differs according to location and the work environment.
If you’re looking to earn the best possible salary as an EMT or paramedic, you should consider moving to one of the top-paying states. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), EMTs and paramedics in Hawaii earn the best salary, averaging $58,580. Other states you can consider moving to include Washington, Maryland, Alaska, and California.
EMT vs Paramedic: Day-to-Day Differences
Understanding how EMT and paramedic roles are different on a day-to-day basis is essential if you are considering this career path. The
Scope of Practice
EMTs do the vital work of keeping patients alive, stable, and prepared for transport to a facility that can support their needs. They can assess patient conditions for reporting to other personnel, start lifesaving interventions such as opening up an airway obstruction or performing chest compressions, making use of supplies in the transport vehicle to treat wounds and injuries, and in some states, administer some drugs for illnesses and pain. Coincidentally, many flight attendants have similar training.
Paramedics have more autonomy than EMTs when it comes to what they can do in the field. They can start IV lines, use lifesaving or diagnostic equipment such as defibrillators and EKGs, work closely with or supervise other first responders in caring for the patient, preparing the patient for transport, and more. They might have the ability to administer medications EMTs are not allowed to in some states, such as narcotics for pain relief.
Patient interaction is essential to the job; EMTs are called to the scene of emergencies and are often among the first people to provide any sort of intervention. They will stay with the patient throughout the treatment and transport.
Just like EMTs, paramedics work with a patient from the moment they arrive on the scene to the moment they turn that patient over to a medical facility for more advanced treatment. This can include not only assessment and treatment but also providing reassurance and comfort.
Though EMTs are trained to stabilize a patient, keep them alive, and get them through transport for further medical care, in most states they do work under the supervision of paramedics. In some states they are allowed to give medications, start IVs, and handle certain medical equipment; in others, they are prohibited from doing this. They work closely with law enforcement and other first responders to coordinate responses and follow instructions as given by superiors or dispatchers.
Paramedics have a great deal of latitude when it comes to making decisions that will save a life. They often supervise EMTs, though a team quickly learns to work well together and perform their duties seamlessly in an emergency situation. Paramedics report to the doctors and nurses at the receiving facility, where they explain what they did for the patient and why.
Skills Required to Become an EMT or Paramedic
While there are some major differences between the two roles, both require you to have a similar set of skills. If you want to become a successful EMT or paramedic, you must work on building the following skills:
- Quick thinking: Quick thinking will help you come up with a quick plan of action to save lives.
- Strong problem-solving skills: This ability helps decide how to treat patients.
- Excellent written and verbal communication skills: EMTs and paramedics often talk to patients, their families or friends, and other healthcare professionals when delivering emergency care.
- Physical stamina: Physical endurance is necessary to work long hours, lift patients, transport them, carry heavy medical equipment, and stay on your feet for extended periods.
- Empathy: Compassion helps EMTs and paramedics comfort and settle patients when they are scared.
- Willingness to work well as a team: EMTs and paramedics collaborate with other EMTs, paramedics, and physicians to provide excellent patient care.
- Resilience: Mental toughness and resilience help paramedics and EMTS support patients in distress.
- Flexibility: Paramedics and EMTs must adapt easily to different environments and situations, especially when working long or irregular hours.
Clothing Required to Become an EMT or Paramedic
EMTs and paramedics need uniforms that are durable, flexible, and capable of carrying the utilities they need. To that end, EMT pants and EMT uniforms provide more storage, are more robust than regular clothing, and have specific features necessary for EMS professionals.
The Bottom Line
For many who are considering the EMT vs paramedic question, the bottom line is that you must first become an EMT before you can begin training as a paramedic. Some paramedic training programs require you to be employed as an EMT for a period of time before beginning your paramedic training to learn more complex procedures.
When deciding whether to become a paramedic vs. EMT, you should know that either choice offers a rewarding career, job security, good pay, and a chance to perform an important role in your community treating acute illnesses or performing advanced life saving procedures.