If you’re considering a career as a paramedic or maybe an EMT, you could be able to embark on the most rewarding and fulfilling careers out there.
Of course, becoming a paramedic isn’t as easy as just wanting to, and every qualified paramedic out there has undergone rigorous training and studied for years to do their job.
You shouldn’t let that put you off, though. Paramedics are some of the most important people in any society and are paid an average salary of $43k in the US.
You’re also pretty much guaranteed job security for your entire life if you want it, as there is always a need for paramedics to save the day in emergency situations.
In this article, we’ll be going over what exactly a paramedic is and what their responsibilities are. Then, we’ll discuss what you’ll need to do to become a fully fledged paramedic and work out roughly how long it takes.
What’s The Difference Between A Paramedic And An EMT?
These two positions are commonly confused for each other. However, that’s forgivable because they perform very similar roles, with a few key differences.
An emergency medical technician (EMT) often works for an ambulance service or hospital but can also be employed by police and fire departments.
Their main responsibilities include basic medical care like administering CPR, stopping bleeding from wounds and applying braces to injured body parts.
To complete your certification as an EMT, you’ll need to take the National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians (NREMT) exam. It’s also required that new EMTs complete a certain amount of training before becoming qualified and this usually requires about 120-150 hours of their time.
In terms of existing qualifications, an EMT will likely only need a high school diploma or GED credential.
Overall, it takes about 1-2 years to become fully qualified as an EMT.
The role of a paramedic in an emergency situation is slightly more advanced than that of an EMT. They’re responsible for things like resuscitating patients, inserting IVs and providing breathing apparatus, as well as all the responsibilities of an EMT.
Because this job is so much more advanced, paramedics will often be required to have a relevant degree before even being accepted onto a course.
Similarly, they must complete the same NREMT exam that EMTs have to take, as well as the National Registry Paramedic (NRP) cognitive exam.
Paramedics also need to complete significantly more training than an EMT, totalling around 1200-1800 hours to achieve their qualification!
All things considered, it can take around 4 years to become qualified as a paramedic.
It’s also important to note that pretty much all paramedics begin their careers as EMTs. For both, the NREMT exam needs to be taken, so this is a good way to progress from one role to the other.
What Is The NREMT Exam?
We’ve established that EMTs and paramedics both need to complete the National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians (NREMT) exam as part of their qualification.
It’s a test that was established in 1970 to standardize training requirements for emergency medical staff in the US.
There are a few different types of NREMT exam you can take depending on the classification requirements for where you want to work, but most follow a pretty similar structure.
According to the EMT national training website, they each consist of around 100 questions and time limits range from 1 hour and 45 minutes to 2 hours and 30 minutes.
The content of each exam will vary depending on what type it is and can range in topics from cardiology and ventilation to trauma and resuscitation.
Whatever type of NREMT exam you take, you can expect the focus of questions to spend 85% on geriatric patients (adults) and 15% on pediatric patients (children).
In terms of calculating how much time it will take to study for this exam, it will largely depend on your own existing knowledge and abilities. The NREMT prep website recommends allowing 2-8 weeks to study for the exam.
What Is The NRP Cognitive Exam?
The National Registry Paramedic (NRP) cognitive exam is a requirement to become qualified as a paramedic, alongside the NREMT exam. As you can imagine, it’s a little more in-depth than the NREMT exam and covers more advanced topics, including:
- Airway, respiration and ventilation
- Cardiology and resuscitation
- Medical; obstetrics and gynecology
- EMS operations
Again, the focus of each topic is split 85%:15% between geriatric patients and pediatric patients, except for EMS operations which covers all patients equally.
However, you don’t have to worry too much about failing the exam on your first attempt. Unsuccessful candidates can apply to retest as soon as 15 days after their last exam and can have a total of 6 attempts to pass.
You shouldn’t rely on this too heavily, though. Each exam you take will cost a fee and if you fail your 6th attempt, you’ll have to repeat the entire paramedic course from the beginning.
Again, there’s no way of determining exactly how much time you’ll need to set aside for studying for the NRP cognitive exam. However, the same estimate of roughly 2-8 weeks is probably appropriate.
Do You Need Experience To Become A Paramedic?
Aside from all the training that’s required, it’s also pretty important to have experience working in the field before you can become a paramedic. This is why working as an EMT first is so beneficial to kickstarting your career.
Depending on the paramedic school you’re applying to, you could be required to complete at least 1 year of EMT experience, but most will only accept those with 2 years under their belt.
We’ve talked about all the different courses and qualifications you’ll need to become a paramedic, but the place you’ll do most of that training and education will be a dedicated paramedic school.
These are pretty tough to get into and will require a couple of years of experience as an EMT, as well as a variety of different high school and college level qualifications in things like science, English and math.
These schools aren’t easy once you get into them either. Like we said earlier in this article, you could be expected to spend 1200-1800 hours in a classroom, learning all the necessary theory to save lives, as well as practical training.
Not to mention, it can cost up to around $15,000 to get into one of these schools, though you can often apply for grants and scholarships to be admitted for a lower fee.
All in all, a full paramedic school course can take anywhere from 6 months to 2 years to complete. It’s largely down to your own abilities and how hard you work to determine where you’ll fall within that time frame.
Paramedic School Modules
Modules, classes or whatever you want to call them work in a pretty similar way to classes at high school. You’ll spend certain amounts of time learning about each different class required to complete the qualification and the exam.
Depending on which paramedic school you go to, you can expect to take part in slightly different breakdowns of topics into each class and spend different amounts of time on each one.
However, with every school, you’ll need to spend around 1200 hours learning in the classroom and 400-800 hours in a ‘field internship’, which requires practical patient care.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is Becoming A Paramedic Hard?
Yes, becoming a paramedic is very physically and mentally demanding, on top of the financial costs of paramedic schools, training, uniform and equipment.
Before even being able to enrol in a paramedic school, you’ll need to have at least a few months of experience as an EMT, which requires a couple of years of work to achieve in the first place.
Then, you could need to pay up to $15,000 to enrol in a paramedic school and spend thousands of hours over the course of a couple of years to become qualified. Whilst it is necessary, the paramedic course is incredibly difficult, as people’s lives will literally be in the student’s hands.
Do Paramedics Get Paid Well?
In the US, a paramedic’s salary will vary significantly depending on where they work. This is because some bigger towns and cities with higher populations have more frequent emergency situations that require paramedics to provide medical assistance to patients.
However, in smaller towns and cities, there are fewer people and therefore fewer emergency situations in which a paramedic is needed. In a big state like Washington, a paramedic will earn around $56,000 per year.
Alternatively, in a state like Alabama, paramedics could only earn around $35,000 per year.
How Much Does Paramedic School Cost?
As well as spending a lot of your time to become a qualified paramedic, you’ll also need to spend quite a lot of your money on a paramedic school. Tuition for these schools can range from anywhere between $1,000 to $10,000 in the US.
However, this doesn’t take into account the cost of equipment, uniform and textbooks that students need to complete their course. For this reason, you could expect a paramedic school course to cost you anywhere from $5,000 to $15,000.
Do You Need Good Grades To Be A Paramedic?
Essentially, yes, having good grades in school and at college can be massively beneficial to helping you become a paramedic.
However, it isn’t essential. The main reason paramedic schools require good grades from their prospective students is because the course itself requires a lot of studious attention, much like what is required in schools and colleges.
Experience is also important to enrolling in paramedic school courses. Therefore, enough relevant experience could outweigh some bad grades.
So there you have it, our definitive guide to becoming a paramedic!
The journey to becoming a fully qualified paramedic almost always starts with an initial career as an EMT, however long that may last and ends with a rigorous exam and practical experience regime.
Totalling up all the time it takes to complete every step of the process, it could take the average college graduate around 4-5 years to become a paramedic.
However, if you put in all the hard work and become qualified, you’ll be left with one of the most rewarding jobs out there!