Career as a EMT/Paramedic

The Path

How to Advance as a EMT/Paramedic

As an EMT or paramedic, you may work with a fire or police department, a hospital or a public or private ambulance service. Some EMTs even work in corporations or industry (on an offshore oil platform, for example). Aside from advancing to a better working environment, there are ways for EMS professionals to lift themselves up.

Entry-level EMTs (EMT-Basics) may train to become EMT-Intermediates, and later, paramedics. Paramedic is the highest EMT level. Where can they go beyond that? Let's see.

When it comes to "related," all is relative. In fact, the careers most connected to that of emergency medical technician/paramedic can be wildly different in terms of the education required, salary earned and common work activities. Per the Bureau of Labor Statistics, here are four somewhat similar jobs to keep in mind.

JobEducation2015 Median PayProjected Job Growth
FirefightersPostsecondary nondegree award$46,8705%
Physician assistantsMaster's degree$98,18030%
Police and detectivesVarious requirements$60,2704%
Registered nursesBachelor's degree$67,49016%

Career Comparison: EMT/paramedic versus physician assistant

Physician assistants (PAs) work with doctors, surgeons and other healthcare workers to examine, diagnose and treat patients in doctor’s offices, hospitals, outpatient care centers and more. Before they apply to a PA program, most have two to four years of undergraduate classes with a heavy emphasis on science. They may already be RNs, EMTs or paramedics. PA programs may take two years of study to complete.

EMTs and paramedics rush to emergencies (disasters, accidents, etc.) via ambulance to assess patients outside of a medical facility. They provide immediate medical attention and transport patients to hospitals and other appropriate medical settings for further treatment. EMTs especially need significantly less training than do PAs.

Three Steps to Advance

  • 1. Continue your education.

    Each state has its own continuing education (CE) requirements and its own organizations that offer CE programs for EMTs and paramedics. These programs may be taught at colleges, and many are now offered online. If you already have clinical experience, an online CE program can help you expand your medical knowledge, and teach you even more about safety and correct administrative practice.

  • 2. Network.

    To keep up with advances in the field, it’s in your best interest to network with colleagues, attend conferences, and follow blogs and Twitter feeds of other EMS professionals. Be sure to interact with your colleagues online to share stories and learn about new career opportunities.

  • 3. Specialize.

    An EMT may decide to leave his or her high-stress job and become an emergency room technician, performing basic health care tasks in an ER. Or they might train to become a physician’s assistant, working side-by-side with doctors in traditional health care settings.

    Paramedics are well-positioned to move into advanced areas of health care. They may choose to train as RNs, or even doctors -- jobs with a higher salary and fewer daily life-threatening emergencies. Paramedic-to-RN and RN bridge programs may allow flexible scheduling so that a paramedic can continue to work while attending nursing school.

    Another way to advance as a paramedic is to become an EMS instructor. If you’ve already earned your associate’s degree, you’re a step ahead of the game. You’ll find more information about becoming an EMS instructor at the National Association of EMS Educators.

    "As I get a little older, I realize that I don't want to be carrying patients down from the third floor for the rest of my career," says Massachusetts-based paramedic Rich Lucius. "To stay within the field and still make some kind of difference requires taking on the role of an educator. It will help lengthen your career, and keep you from getting burnt out. My personal plan is to begin assisting in teaching some of the skills sessions we have in our company, and at some point I'd like to get my Instructor certification and begin teaching more, either at the EMT or paramedic level."

    EMS-related career opportunities include:

    • Ambulance EMT or paramedic
    • Firefighter
    • Critical care or flight paramedic
    • Search and Rescue (SAR) medic
    • Ski patrol medic
    • EMS instructor
    • Clinician in a general practice surgery
    • Paramedic consultant
    • Registered Nurse

Poll: What Separates a Great EMT/Paramedic from an Average One?

Just as no two EMTs are identical, no two EMTs are of the same caliber. What, then, is the difference between a great EMT and a so-so peer? Of course, there is no single correct answer. Here are three.

Jon McCarthy, paramedic (Tallahassee Community College, 1997): "The ability to think critically amidst chaos and a mastery of the skills needed when someone's life is in your hands. Intubating a difficult airway, getting an IV on a "hard stick" and knowing your pharmacology are key. Equally important are the ability to read people, empathize with people you can't really relate to and interpersonal communication skills."

Richard Webber, EMT Paramedic Practice, 2002): "I think it would be the ability to naturally connect with people. You can try to learn how to do it, but there’s a big difference between those who connect naturally and those who don’t. If you can connect, it is so much easier to reassure patients, and to find out the information you need to give them the best care possible."

Rich Lucius, paramedic (SouthCoast Training, 2014): "Actually caring for your patients, not simply seeing them as materials to be delivered. Taking part in helping new members in the field feel welcomed and helping them learn. I feel like these are the most important things in our field."

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