What is a Paramedic?

Paramedics and emergency medical technicians (EMTs) care for the sick or injured in emergency medical settings. People’s lives often depend on their quick reaction and competent care. They respond to emergency calls, performing medical services and transporting patients to medical facilities. They work both indoors and outdoors, in all types of weather. Their work is physically strenuous and can be stressful, sometimes involving life-or-death situations and patients who are suffering.

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What does a Paramedic do?

Paramedics and EMTs typically do the following:

  • Respond to 911 calls for emergency medical assistance, such as cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) or bandaging a wound
  • Assess a patient’s condition and determine a course of treatment
  • Follow guidelines that they learned in training and that they receive from physicians who oversee their work
  • Use backboards and restraints to keep patients still and safe in an ambulance for transport
  • Help transfer patients to the emergency department of a healthcare facility and report their observations and treatment to the staff
  • Create a patient care report; documenting the medical care they gave the patient
  • Replace used supplies and check or clean equipment after use.

When taking a patient to the hospital, one EMT or paramedic may drive the ambulance while another monitors the patient's vital signs and gives additional care. Some work as part of a helicopter's flight crew to transport critically ill or injured patients to a hospital.

Some patients may need to be transferred to a hospital that specializes in treating their injury or illness or to a facility that provides long-term care, such as a nursing home. Paramedics and EMTs often are asked to do this.

If a patient has a contagious disease, paramedics and EMTs decontaminate the interior of the ambulance and may need to report these cases to the proper authorities.

Paramedics generally provide more extensive pre-hospital care than do EMTs. In addition to carrying out the procedures that EMTs use, paramedics can give medications orally and intravenously, interpret electrocardiograms (EKGs)—used to monitor heart function—and use other monitors and complex equipment.

An EMT-Basic, also known as an EMT, cares for patients at the scene and while taking patients by ambulance to a hospital. They have the emergency skills to assess a patient's condition and manage respiratory, cardiac, and trauma emergencies.

An EMT-Intermediate (1985 or 1999), also known as Advanced EMT, has completed the training required at the EMT-Basic level, as well as training for more advanced skills, such as the use of intravenous fluids and some medications.

What does it take to be a Paramedic?

All EMTs and paramedics must complete a formal training program. All jurisdictions require EMTs and paramedics to be licensed; requirements vary by location. Both a high school diploma or equivalent and cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) certification are prerequisites for most formal education and training programs. High school students interested in entering these occupations should take courses in anatomy and physiology.

Formal training is offered by technical institutes, community colleges, and facilities that specialize in emergency care training. At the EMT-Basic level, training includes instruction in assessing patients' conditions, dealing with trauma and cardiac emergencies, clearing obstructed airways, using field equipment, and handling emergencies. Formal courses include about 100 hours of specialized training. Some training may be required in a hospital or ambulance setting.

The EMT-Intermediate typically requires 1,000 hours of training based on the scope of practice. At this level, people must complete the training required at the EMT-Basic level, as well as more advanced training, such as training in the use of complex airway devices, intravenous fluids, and some medications.

Paramedics have the most advanced level of training. They must complete EMT-level and Advanced EMT training, as well as training in advanced medical skills. Community colleges and technical schools may offer this training, in which graduates may receive an associate's degree. Paramedic programs require about 1,300 hours of training and may take up to two years to complete. Their broader scope of practice may include stitching wounds or administering IV medications. Separate training and licensure is required to drive an ambulance.

Although some emergency medical services hire separate drivers, paramedics take a course requiring about eight hours of training before they can drive an ambulance.

Paramedics and EMTs must provide emotional support to patients in an emergency, especially patients who are in life-threatening situations or extreme mental distress. They almost always work on teams and must be able to coordinate their activities closely with others in stressful situations. They need to listen to patients to determine the extent of their injuries or illnesses. They also need to be physically fit. Their job requires a lot of bending, lifting, and kneeling. They need strong problem-solving skills. They must evaluate patients’ symptoms and administer the appropriate treatments. They need to be able to comfort and explain procedures to the patient, give orders, and relay information to others.

What is the workplace of a Paramedic like?

Paramedics and EMTs work both indoors and outdoors, in all types of weather. Their work is physically strenuous and can be stressful, sometimes involving life-or-death situations and patients who are suffering. Most career EMTs and paramedics work in metropolitan areas. Volunteer EMTs and paramedics are more common in small cities, towns, and rural areas. These individuals volunteer for fire departments, providers of emergency medical services, or hospitals and may respond to only a few calls per month.

How much does a Paramedic earn?

The median annual wage of emergency medical technicians (EMTs) and paramedics was $30,360 in May 2010. (The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less.) The lowest 10% earned less than $19,710, and the top 10% earned more than $51,370.

Learn more about being a Paramedic