Emergency Medical Technicians


Education and Training Requirements

High School

While still in high school, interested students should take courses in health and science (including anatomy and physiology), mathematics, driver education, and English. They also should consider becoming certified in CPR.

Postsecondary Training

To be admitted to a basic training program, applicants usually must be at least 18 years old and have a high school diploma and valid driver's license. Exact requirements vary slightly between states and training courses. Many EMTs first become interested in the field while in the U.S. Armed Forces, where they may have received training as medics.

The standard basic training program for EMTs was designed by the U.S. Department of Transportation. It is taught in hospitals, community colleges, and police, fire, and health departments across the country. It is approximately 150 hours in length and constitutes the minimum mandatory requirement to become an EMT. In this course, you are taught how to manage common emergencies such as bleeding, cardiac arrest, fractures, and airway obstruction. You also learn how to use equipment such as stretchers, backboards, fracture kits, and oxygen delivery systems.

Successful completion of the basic EMT course opens several opportunities for further training. Among these are a two-day course on removing trapped victims and a five-day course on driving emergency vehicles. Another, somewhat longer course, trains dispatchers. Completion of these recognized training courses may be required for EMTs to be eligible for certain jobs in some areas.

More than 630 colleges and universities offer certificate, diploma, and degree programs in emergency medical services. Visit https://www.caahep.org/Students/Find-a-Program.aspx for a list of schools.

Other Education or Training

The National Association of Emergency Medical Technicians offers the following continuing education programs for EMTs: Advanced Medical Life Support,Emergency Pediatric Care,Advanced Geriatric & Core Geriatric Education for EMS, Psychological Trauma in EMS Patients,Prehospital Trauma Life Support, EMS Safety, EMS Vehicle Operator Safety, Principles of Ethics and Personal Leadership,Tactical Combat Casualty Care-All Combatants, Tactical Combat Casualty Care-Medical Personnel, and Tactical Emergency Casualty Care. Contact the association for more information.

Certification, Licensing, and Special Requirements

Certification or Licensing

All 50 states have some EMT certification requirement. Certification is only open to those who have completed the standard basic training course. Some states offer new EMTs the choice of the National Registry examination or the state's own certification examination. A majority of states accept national registration in place of their own examination for EMTs who relocate to their states.

After the training program has been successfully completed, the graduate has the opportunity to work toward becoming certified or registered with the National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians (NREMT). Applicants should check the specific regulations and requirements for their state.

At present, the NREMT recognizes four levels of competency: first responder, EMT-basic, EMT-advanced (also known as EMT-intermediate), and EMT-paramedic. Although it is not always essential for EMTs to become registered with one of these ratings, you can expect better job prospects as you attain higher levels of registration.

Candidates for the first responder designation must have completed the standard U.S. Department of Transportation training program (or their state's equivalent) and pass both a state-approved written and a hands-on practical examination.

Candidates for the EMT-basic designation must have completed the standard U.S. Department of Transportation training program (or their state's equivalent), have a current approved CPR credential for the professional rescuer, and pass both a state-approved practical examination and a written examination.

The EMT-advanced level of competency requires all candidates to have current registration at the EMT-basic level or higher. They must also have a certain amount of experience, completed a state-approved EMT advanced course, have a current approved CPR credential for the professional rescuer, and pass both a written test and a practical examination.

To become registered as an EMT-paramedic, or EMT-P, the highest level of registration, candidates must be already registered at the basic or intermediate level. They must have completed a special EMT-P training program and pass both a written and practical examination. Because training is much more comprehensive and specialized than for other EMTs, EMT-Ps are prepared to make more physician-like observations and judgments.

Experience, Skills, and Personality Traits

Students in high school usually have little opportunity for direct experience with the emergency medical field, although it may be possible to learn a great deal about the health-services field through a part-time, summer, or volunteer job in a hospital or clinic. Such service jobs can provide a chance to observe and talk to staff members concerned with emergency medical services. 

Anyone who is considering becoming an EMT should have a desire to serve people and be emotionally stable and clearheaded. You must inspire confidence with level-headedness and good judgment. You must be efficient, neither wasting time nor hurrying through delicate work.

Prospective EMTs need to be in good physical condition. Other requirements include good manual dexterity and motor coordination; the ability to lift and carry up to 125 pounds; good visual acuity, with lenses for correction permitted; accurate color vision, enabling safe driving and immediate detection of diagnostic signs; and competence in giving and receiving verbal and written communication.