The short answer is: between two and four years! Otherwise, strap yourself in for the lengthier explanation.
The process of becoming a fully qualified paramedic is different at any given institution, so the length of time it takes really depends on which education program you want to follow.
Other factors are also important, like what goals you have for your future career and whether you’d be looking to advance higher in the medical ranks. Let's break it down and find out everything required to qualify as a paramedic in America.
Is there a difference between an EMT and a Paramedic?
Before we get started, we must first make an important distinction between paramedics and EMTs, as contrary to popular belief, they are not the same thing!
An Emergency Medical Technician or EMT is equipped to provide the most basic of medical care for patients, from helping to administer CPR and stopping a bleed to putting on a neck brace safely.
You’ll find they primarily work within hospitals and ambulance services, as well as for both the police and fire department.
In order to qualify, EMTs require a minimum of between 120 and 150 hours of training before they can be certified, which involves taking the National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians (NREMT) exam.
The majority of EMT programs do not result in a degree at the end of study.
A Paramedic, however, is completely different: they have been trained in more advanced medical care, which might involve starting an IV line, giving necessary medication, putting a patient on a ventilator or even resuscitating somebody.
As well as working in all of the same environments as an EMT, paramedics are also qualified to serve in advanced emergency services, as well as aboard air ambulances.
In order to successfully qualify, they must have accrued somewhere between a whopping 1200 and 1800 hours of training.
Examinations-wise, paramedics will not only take the NREMT exam, but a National Registry Paramedic cognitive exam to ensure they are of sound mind and capable of responsibility. Plus, some courses will offer a two-year or even four-year degree as well as your certification.
So, as you can see, an EMT is a vastly different career path that requires much less training, fewer examinations and involves less “emergency” treatments; paramedics on the other hand are exposed to some of the most intense and difficult medical situations there are.
Either job is a big undertaking, of course, and both are rewarding, but knowing the difference between the two could save you from embarking on the wrong career path!
Likewise, many who begin their careers as EMTs will choose to take further schooling and gain more qualifications in order to eventually practise as a paramedic instead.
Becoming a paramedic in the US - Everything you need to know
Thinking specifically about the United States, a paramedic is defined as somebody who is able to provide advanced emergency medical care for those patients in critical or emergency situations requiring treatment from the EMS.
The skills and level of education required in order to qualify as a paramedic vary on a state by state basis.
Educational programs designed for paramedics can be anywhere between six months and four years long: for instance, an associate degree would take two years to finish, whereas a four year bachelor’s degree is also possible to attain in a lengthier four years.
First of all, you need to be eighteen years old or above, as this is the minimum age for paramedic training. It’s also important that you have your high school diploma or GED, as well as pass a full physical examination which involves being screened for both hepatitis B and tuberculosis.
Your second step is to do some research and find out what your state, desired school or employer requires from you: search up their certification and licensing rules so you don’t accidentally miss a step!
The majority of paramedic certification and education programs will ensure that their students are, at minimum, trained to the National Standard Curriculum at their skill level, as established by the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) guidelines.
Any program must meet these guidelines in order to be accredited!
However, every institution is going to vary a lot in terms of the way training is administered, how the program is laid out and what requirements are established for applicants - it’s important that as a prospective student, you thoroughly research and understand what it is you need to do in order to successfully apply to your school or program of choice.
Getting into a school program to become a paramedic will require different qualifications depending on where you apply, with a different application process at every establishment as well, but it’s possible you may need to have studied the following in order to be accepted:
- Human biology, to a college level
- English, to a college level
- Math, to a college level
- Medicine and medical terminology
You might also have to have completed a certain number of hours of experience and be qualified as an EMT basic (or EMT-B) in order to be considered, but as we’ve said already, every school or college is different.
This training can usually be completed in approximately six months, and is accessible in a number of different routes: the most popular is probably community college, as this is more cost effective and might even be subsidised by your local government depending on where you live.
Other requirements that might be necessary for paramedic training include:
- CPR certification
- Valid health insurance
- A full, clean driver’s license
- Immunization records and medical history
- A background check, as well as a drug screening
It’s worth noting that because there is no national standard universally accepted by all 50 states, licensing issues continue to differ.
For instance, one group of people with 120 hours of training (aka an EMT qualification) could be called a paramedic in the same way that a group of people with university degrees located in a different state might be.
Generally, an entry level paramedic will require at least a two year or three year degree from an accredited college or university in order to qualify for an employed position, though those with bachelors and graduate degrees might be treated preferentially when it comes to applying for jobs.
What skills does a paramedic need?
Though you might think a passion for helping others is all you need to succeed in this career path, there are other skills and characteristics you need to possess in order to find being a paramedic a fulfilling and rewarding career.
Physical strength and endurance are perhaps the most important factors - you’ll need to be able to lift a significant amount of weight when moving patients, as well as spend a lot of time in strange positions, twisting, kneeling or leaning in order to reach your injured patients.
Communication skills are imperative for being a good paramedic: in this role, you will meet countless different people from all walks of life, so it’s important you can speak with them easily and make them feel comfortable, especially when under duress or in a particularly stressful or upsetting situation.
Problem solving skills and being able to think on your feet will also come in handy when it comes to giving emergency care.
How much does paramedic training cost?
As has already been established, every course is different, so it’s difficult to say exactly how much you’re going to be paying when you start to train. However, it is possible to offer an estimate, so let’s do that.
The average one to two year paramedic program tuition ranges from between $3000 and up to $15,000 - it’s up to the institution in question to declare their fees, so research in this area is important if you’re working on a budget!
Plus, if you’re planning on studying from out of state, you’re probably going to be paying a lot more than the home state students.
As well as tuition, there are other important costs to consider:
- Books and study materials (some schools cover this as part of their fees, so be sure to check) which could run you up to $1500 per year
- EMT training (approximately $100-$1000, depending on the institution)
- Certification exams: as of right now, the National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians (NREMT) exam costs $110 for paramedics.
The only thing that all 50 states agree on is that you must have taken the formal NREMT examination, and this must be renewed every two or three years for your qualification to remain legitimate.
Whether or not you need to take any refresher courses or embark in continuing education in order to climb the ladder will be determined by which state you live in.
How much does an employed paramedic make?
Salaries for paramedics vary across the US - on average, you’re looking at approximately $30,000 a year. The bottom 10% of earners will get less than $20,000, whilst those in the top 10% of earners could be looking at a huge $50,000.
This is much less than the average salary for paramedics in Canada and the United Kingdom, for instance, which is unfortunate. Influences on how much you will be paid could involve where you were educated, the state in which your practise is located and how much experience you’ve got, amongst other things.
If you receive a promotion to paramedic supervisor or even manager, you could be looking at a pay rise at between approximately $60,000 and $80,000 per year, so it’s well worth getting that extra training where you can if progression is something you want to aim for.
According to the May 2019 Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) survey, the top five highest earning states for paramedics are as follows:
Hawaii - $56,610 per year
Washington - $56,140 per year
Maryland - $50,640 per year
Alaska - $50,640 per year
District of Columbia - $47,830 per year
Can you study to be a paramedic online?
You can certainly do part of it! This is a convenient way to study for your future career when you’re busy and require the ability to study on your own.
Unfortunately, however, becoming a paramedic is an incredibly hands-on, physical career, so the majority of your training needs to take place in person.
As a result, you’ll notice there are a lot of what’s known as a “hybrid” school, offering an EMT or paramedic program to be partially completed online so you can get your Associate’s degree.