EMS vs EMT: What’s The Difference?

EMT, EMS, EMR, Paramedics - what does it all mean? 

When looking into emergency situations and first responder roles, your research can throw around a lot of initials and titles without really explaining them in depth so you can understand them fully.

Medical personnel begin to merge and blend together and soon, you can’t remember what the difference is between one and the other. Which one has the most training? Which one do you need to become first before you can progress to the next stage?

If you need to know the vital difference between EMS and EMT, then here is a handy guide that will go into each one in detail so you can understand their similarities and differences, and know how important both are to saving lives in an emergency.

What’s The Difference Between EMS And EMT

What Is An EMS?

EMS stands for Emergency Medical Services - a system that provides emergency medical care in dire situations. 

When an emergency takes place and people are seriously injured or ill, the EMS kicks into action.  Its main concern is the medical care of the people involved.

These people become patients as the EMS handles their care from the scene of the incident to the moment they arrive in hospital.

EMS covers the initial care and transports the patients to whichever institution they need to travel to, such as hospitals or trauma centers, to receive optimal care. 

While EMS is most recognised through emergency vehicles (like ambulances or helicopters) responding to accidents, it is not just solely defined in the transporting of patients.

EMS is a response system that involves multiple people and agencies, each referred to as a ‘component’ of the EMS system. 

Such components include communication and transport networks, hospitals, and highly trained professional individuals. These such individuals include volunteer or career prehospital personnel, physicians, nurses, therapists, and even administrators and government officials. 

EMS basically refers to the whole system of caring for those involved in an accident or emergency. 

It starts with recognition of the incident, leading to a 911 call and dispatching of medical care. First responders arrive on the scene (these can come in the form of police officers, EMTs, or firefighters) and prevent the incident from progressing.

Lifesaving care like CPR and first aid can be given to those in need, and then transport will arrive to take the injured to an emergency department and facility. There, the patient received specialized care and rehabilitation until they are fit to leave.

But the EMS system does not end there - EMS also covered prevention awareness and public education to avoid similar accidents or emergencies from happening again.

Although not all incidents can be avoided, public awareness can lead to earlier recognition of an emergency and give the EMS more time to save those involved. 

This is the whole EMS system from start to finish, recognition to awareness. It combines a lot of different services like health care, public safety and health. It is complex but is vital to saving, preserving and protecting lives. 

The goal of the system is to be ready every day for every kind of emergency - that is why the EMS involves so many individuals and agencies, facilities and services. By involving so many components, the EMS is prepared to face anything that may endanger lives. 

What Is An EMT?

An EMT is just one component of the EMS system, but they make up a large portion of EMS personnel. EMT stands for Emergency Medical Technicians and they are the most common providers in EMS.

They are classed as first responders, meaning that they are usually one of the first on the scene of an emergency and care for patients from the moment they arrive right up until the patient arrives at hospital and is transferred into the care of medical staff at an emergency department.

EMTs are trained with the essential skills that are vital in a life threatening situation where time is of the essence.  Many doctors, nurses, and even firefighters can train as EMTs and use this experience to progress further. 

An EMT must be a cool, calm individual who is able to work under pressure in such extreme and stressful circumstances. This enables them to provide the best possible care to their patients without causing further panic or stress.

They are trained through an EMT certificate program at community college and study for a minimum of 170 hours over one or two years.

To qualify to become an EMT, you do not need any previous medical experience and most courses only require a high school diploma. Becoming an EMT means undergoing a lot of training for a lot of different scenarios as EMTs need to be prepared for any kind of emergency.  

The duties of an EMT include assessing a patient and determining what level of care they need to help their injury or illness improve.

Such tasks include splinting injuries, administering CPR during a cardiac arrest or epinephrine in the event of an allergic reaction. Other skills an EMT will include how to administer oxygen, deliver a newborn and administer several other medications. 

EMTs, while often being mixed up with EMS due to the similar names, are also confused with paramedics. The difference between a paramedic and an EMT is the amount of training a paramedic undertakes in comparison to an EMT, and also in their duties.

A paramedic completes a program that lasts between 1200 and 1800 hours - far more studying is involved compared to an EMT, which is why a lot of people use their EMT training as a good basis to springboard into another medical profession.

It also explains why EMTs make up such a huge portion of medical personnel in the EMS. It is because EMTs take less time to train and more EMTs can be trained in the time it takes to train one paramedic.

As for the content of their courses, a paramedic course covers more difficult topics such as anatomy, physiology, cardiology, and more complicated medical procedures and medications.

Paramedic courses build on what is learnt at EMT level and provide paramedics with more complex skills like knowing how to manage airways on a more advanced level.

Basically, a paramedic does what an EMT does but on a more specialized level and has more training to fine tune their skills.

Without EMT training, someone cannot progress and be eligible to become a paramedic. EMT training is a requirement as it is so important for building the skills necessary to save lives. 

Both paramedics and EMTs are vital in an emergency and both have the training needed to make critical decisions in an accident.

Many people owe their lives to EMTs and paramedics alike, as they are the ones who provide the life saving care needed for patients to survive an accident or illness until they can get to a hospital and receive specialized care. 

What About EMR?

If you are researching first responders in an emergency, you may see the initials EMT and EMR used interchangeably but there is a difference between the two.

While EMT stands for Emergency Medical Technician, EMR stands for Emergency Medical Responder. Both are the first ones on scene at an emergency, but an EMR is more likely to get there first.

This is because  EMRs are not fully trained EMTs and anyone in your workplace can train up to be an EMR. 

An EMR training course only takes around 60 hours maximum to complete, so your workplace may offer to send you to train to be an EMR. You will learn how to keep a heart beating and lungs to keep breathing until EMTs can arrive to provide more specific care.

You won’t find an EMR in an ambulance with a patient as that is a part of the EMT’s role and an EMR is there to provide basic first aid and CPR. They are not replacements to EMTs or paramedics as an EMR will only have a very limited scope of medical care. 

EMRs are usually firefighters, police officers, and lifeguards who may be first on the scene to help a patient before EMTs arrive in transport.

A firefighter may need to provide CPR to someone who has inhaled a lot of smoke and has become unconscious, or a lifeguard to someone they have dragged out from a pool.

This means they will undergo EMR training so they can step in and preserve life until a trained and professional EMT arrives to take over. 

Just like everyone else in the EMS system, EMRs play a vital role in keeping patients alive even without the more in depth training that EMTs and paramedics receive.

As they provide basic life support and first aid, they sustain those who need specialized medical care so EMTs and paramedics can do their jobs. 

So What Is The Difference?

EMS refers to the whole medical care system that is provided in an emergency, whereas an EMT is a singular person who is involved in the EMS system. 

Both are related to accidents and emergencies and focus on the care of patients, but an EMT is the person administering the care and assistance while EMT covers the whole process of care from the first responder all the way to patient rehabilitation.

They share the same goals - to save and preserve life during an emergency, but the EMT is only one component of the whole EMS system as the EMS is a network that also contains firefighters, police officers, and paramedics.

An EMT is a specific certification for an emergency healthcare role, while EMS is the healthcare system during an emergency. 

As for EMR and paramedics, an EMR is someone with basic life support skills and will hand over a patient to an EMT. An EMT will hand over their patient to a paramedic, as paramedics have more training and experience than an EMT.

All three work together to save lives, and each one is as important as the other. 

With all these initials, it can be easy to mix up EMS and EMT. Thankfully, you know what an EMS and EMT are and how they differ from one another, yet are both part of the same process that provides emergency, life saving care.