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Paramedic Career Overview

Daniel Bal, MS.Ed
Updated April 18, 2023
Review the role of a paramedic, the steps needed to work in the position, the responsibilities, and the job outlook for those who pursue this career option.
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How Long to Become

1-3 years

Job Outlook

11% growth from 2020-2030

Average Annual Salary


By delivering basic and advanced life support to individuals facing an emergency, the role of a paramedic is crucial on the frontlines of healthcare. Through their work, paramedics can greatly impact lives and make a difference within their communities.

This guide explores the responsibilities, education and certification requirements, and career outlook of paramedics to help you determine if this career is right for you.

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What Does a Paramedic Do?

emt certification required

Paramedics are licensed healthcare professionals who provide medical treatment in emergency situations. They are typically one of the first healthcare workers to arrive at the scene of an accident. While often employed in emergency rooms, ambulances, and first response emergency vehicles, paramedics can also work within a variety of settings that require a rapid medical response team.

The traditional role of a paramedic is to stabilize patients before transporting them to a medical facility. They have extensive knowledge of physiology, cardiology, medical procedures, and medications. Essentially, they act as a mobile emergency room that provides advanced life support to patients before they arrive at the medical facility.

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JGI/Tom Grill / Getty Images

Key Responsibilities

  • Leading the medical response team
  • Evaluating the patient’s condition to determine a preliminary diagnosis
  • Determine the best course of treatment
  • Provide emergency medical assistance, such as first aid
  • Document medical treatment

Career Traits

  • Strong communication and listening skills
  • Make crucial decisions quickly
  • Remain calm under pressure
  • Compassionate and empathetic to the needs of others
  • Interpersonal and leadership skills

Where Do Paramedics Work?

While paramedics are typically thought to work mainly in ambulances, there are a variety of practice settings available to them. These settings include fire stations, cruise ships, oil-drilling platforms, air and ocean rescue transports, and special events.

Regardless of the setting, the work conditions of a paramedic can be demanding. Paramedics work at both indoor and outdoor settings that can be hazardous, depending on the medical emergency.

Career paramedics usually find work in metropolitan areas and larger cities with higher populations, which leads to a greater percentage of medical emergencies. Those in rural regions are more likely to work on a volunteer basis than as full-time, salaried paramedics, as their services are not consistently needed.

Three common work settings for paramedics include:


Ambulance paramedics often work as the head of a two-person team with an emergency care assistant or technician. They drive and staff emergency vehicles, responding to 911 calls, providing life-saving care, and transporting individuals to the appropriate medical facility.


Paramedics who work in hospitals play a supervisory role in emergency medicine. They authorize paramedics in the field to perform certain procedures or administer medications. Hospital paramedics oversee the response and treatment of patients up until their arrival.

Fire Department

Paramedics employed by fire departments have received both medical and firefighter training. They respond to community-based emergencies by providing medical aid while also extinguishing fires, performing rescues, and overseeing equipment maintenance.

How to Become a Paramedic

While specific requirements vary by state or organization, most prospective paramedics must meet certain criteria to practice, including earning a high school diploma or the equivalent, obtaining CPR certification, and completing a post-secondary emergency medical technology program. These non-degree 1-2-year programs are usually offered through community colleges or technical institutes and culminate in students earning their emergency medical technician (EMT) license.

Aspiring paramedics can then pursue an associate degree that prepares them to administer medication, insert IVs, and resuscitate patients. To enter a paramedical training program, applicants must already be EMT certified. Associate programs typically include courses in physiology, advanced life support techniques, and anatomy. Most states require their paramedics to earn a degree.

Upon completion of their education, paramedics need to earn either state or national certification, depending on location. Some states use their own specific certification exam; however, most accept the exam offered by the National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians. The national exam includes both a written and practice portion.

Learn more about how to become a paramedic.

How Much Do Paramedics Make?

According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS), the average annual salary for a paramedic is $49,500, which translates to $23.80 per hour. There are a variety of factors that impact paramedics’ pay, resulting in yearly earnings ranging from $74,200 for the top 10% to $34,420 for the bottom 10%.

The geographic location and practice setting can greatly influence a paramedic’s salary. The BLS reports that the top-paying industries for paramedics include nonscheduled air transportation ($79,580), state governments ($70,620), and medical/diagnostic labs ($54,760). Geographically, Washington ($82,810), New Jersey ($71,180), and Washington D.C. ($64,940) make up the top-paying states for paramedics.

Paramedic employment is expected to grow 11% from 2020-2030, which is higher than the 8% average for all other occupations. The BLS anticipates approximately 28,600 job openings annually in that timeframe.

Frequently Asked Questions about Paramedics

question-mark-circleWhat is the first step to becoming a paramedic?

The first step to becoming a paramedic includes earning a high school diploma or equivalent and becoming a certified EMT. Upon earning EMT certification, prospective paramedics can apply to a two-year associate degree program.

question-mark-circleWhat are the highest-paying industries for paramedics?

According to the BLS, the highest-paying industries for paramedics include nonscheduled air transportation ($79,850), state government ($70,620), medical and diagnostic laboratories ($54,760), physicians’ offices ($54,690), and chemical manufacturing ($53,310).

question-mark-circleIs a paramedic the same as an EMT?

A paramedic is not the same as an EMT. The main difference is their level of education and advanced training. EMTs must complete a training program that results in certification but not a degree. Paramedics, however, must complete a degree program before earning their certification to practice. It is common for many paramedics to work as EMTs before completing their advanced training.

question-mark-circleHow long is a paramedic program?

Before becoming a paramedic, individuals must earn their EMT certification, which can take 1-2 years, depending upon the program. After earning an EMT certification, prospective paramedics must earn their associate degree, which can take between one and two years. Therefore, the entire process typically takes 2-3 years.

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