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How to Become a Paramedic

Paramedics Paramedics are the first responders to calls for medical assistance. / Credit: Tyler Olson | Shutterstock

Paramedics care for those who are injured or sick in emergency situations. They are the first responders to calls for medical assistance, and it is their responsibility to stabilize and transport victims to healthcare facilities. Peoples’ lives often depend on the quick and competent care of paramedics in an emergency.

If you work well under pressure and have a passion for helping others, then you might have what it takes to become a paramedic. But before you go looking for a job, you should know what to expect from a career in emergency care, including where you might find a job, what your responsibilities will be, and how much you might earn annually.

What paramedics do

Paramedics work in conjunction with ambulance dispatchers to respond to calls for medical assistance. They are often among the first to arrive at the scene of an accident or other emergency, where they are responsible for assessing the condition of patients and responding to their medical needs.

Upon stabilizing patients, paramedics transport them to the nearest hospital or other healthcare facility, where they receive further treatment from emergency room nurses and doctors.  Paramedics must be able to provide emergency room staff with detailed reports of what happened at the scene of the call and what care was administered to each patient.

Some of the common care practices of paramedics include administering cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), bandaging wounds, using backboards and other stabilizing restraints, and monitoring vital signs.

The specific duties of a paramedic vary depending on the state in which they work and what level of training they have received. Unlike emergency medical technicians (EMTs), paramedics are able to administer medicine both orally and intravenously, as well as use and interpret electrocardiograms (EKGs) and other monitoring equipment.

Where paramedics work

The majority of paramedics, about 48 percent, work for ambulance services, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Though some small cities and towns employ full-time paramedics, many rely on volunteers to staff their first aid centers. It is more common for paramedics to find paid work in metropolitan areas, where call volumes are higher and government agencies need full-time emergency response workers. Some paramedics are also employed by local and private hospitals.

According to the Occupational Outlook Handbook, paramedics earned an average of $30,360 annually in 2010. About 22 percent of paramedics are members of a labor union.

Most paramedics work full-time, and many work overtime, as well. Because emergency situations can arise at any time, it is not uncommon for paramedics to work overnight shifts, holidays, or weekends.

Paramedics often work closely with other emergency response workers such as police officers and firemen. They must also report to doctors and nurses at emergency rooms and follow their instructions when transporting patients between hospitals.

The nature of emergency medical work means that paramedics are often exposed to stressful situations. They are trained to remain calm under an enormous amount of pressure. They often witness traumatic events such as severe injury or death.

Paramedics must also maintain a certain level of physical fitness and stamina, as their job entails heavy lifting of equipment and patients, as well as a great deal of kneeling and  bending.

Becoming a paramedic

All states require that paramedics be licensed to work in that state. Paramedics receive a license upon completing a formal training program and passing the necessary exams.

Paramedics are emergency technicians that have received the most advanced level of training for their profession. Most states require that paramedics possess a high school diploma or equivalent. They must also be certified in CPRand basic first aid. Paramedics must pass EMT-Basic and Intermediate level training before receiving their paramedic certification.

Formal training to become an EMT or paramedic is offered by technical institutes, community colleges, and facilities specializing in emergency care training. Separate training is also required for paramedics who wish to receive their ambulance license, which is often a prerequisite of employment.

Upon completing a training program, paramedics must pass a written and practical exam administered by the National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians. Some states require that paramedics pass an additional state-administered exam.

Elizabeth Peterson

Elizabeth writes about innovative technologies and business trends. She has traveled throughout the Americas in her roles as student, English teacher, Spanish language interpreter and freelance writer. She graduated with a B.A. in International Affairs from the George Washington University. You can follow her on Twitter @techEpalermo or .