How to Become a Paramedic

Doug Wintemute
Updated June 7, 2024
Edited by
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Learn how to become a paramedic, including training and licensure.
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Paramedics are essential first responders who deliver critical, life-saving aid. Becoming a paramedic involves training, certification, and state licensure. However, specific requirements vary by state. Discover how to become a paramedic and the differences between paramedics and EMTs in this guide.

How Long to Become

1-3 years

Degree Required

Certificate or Associate Degree

Required Certification

EMT Certification

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What is a Paramedic?

Paramedics primarily work for ambulance services, responding to emergency calls and providing on-scene medical care to patients. As part of their duties, paramedics assess patients and attempt to stabilize them as needed. Paramedics administer medication and other treatments, transfer patients to an appropriate medical facility, and provide reports to the intake professionals upon arrival.

People often confuse paramedics with emergency medical technicians (EMTs). Although the two professions perform similar job functions, paramedics complete more training than EMTs and are authorized to perform more advanced or complex procedures.

Paramedics offer the most advanced pre-hospital care among emergency medical services (EMS) professionals. They can provide medications intravenously, perform intubations and other advanced airway management techniques, and interpret electrocardiography (ECG) readings.

Steps to Becoming a Paramedic

While the exact process to becoming a paramedic varies by state, the steps generally include completing an EMT program, passing the EMT certification examination, logging EMT experience, and entering a paramedic program. After completing the paramedic training program, the final steps are to receive certification and get your professional license.

  1. 1

    Complete Your EMT Training

    All aspiring EMTs must complete state-approved training, such as a course or certificate program. Curricula vary but typically feature about 150 hours of instruction on topics like patient assessment, airway procedures, CPR instruction, and clinical experiences. You can finish these programs in less than one year, though accelerated programs can take as little as six weeks.

  2. 2

    Consider Pursuing an Associate Degree

    An associate degree may replace or supplement an EMT training program and give you an edge over other aspiring paramedics. These programs typically feature 60 credits and take less than two years to complete. The more advanced training provided in associate programs prepares you for national and state certification exams.

  3. 3

    Pass the NREMT Exam to Apply for EMT Licensure

    Completing a state-approved EMT program qualifies you to take the national EMT certification exam from the National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians (NREMT) or a state certification exam. The certification exams have two sections: a five-part cognitive exam and a psychomotor exam, which is a physically oriented skills assessment. The NREMT and some state EMS offices administer cognitive exams, while state EMS offices handle the psychomotor exams.

    Once you pass both exams, you can apply for licensure with your state’s EMS licensing agency.

  4. 4

    Gain Experience in EMT

    The amount of EMT experience you need varies, but you usually need about six months of experience just to enter into a paramedic program. This ensures you can handle the rigor of the job and have the basic cognitive knowledge and psychomotor skills.

  5. 5

    Complete a Paramedic Program

    To qualify for paramedic certification and licensure, you need to complete a program accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP). This ensures your training meets or exceeds the National EMS Education Standards for Paramedics. Most paramedic programs feature 1,200 hours of instruction and clinical experiences and take 1-2 years to complete.

  6. 6

    Apply for NREMT Paramedic Certification and State Licensure

    Once you have your EMT license, have completed a paramedic program within the last two years, and have completed CPR/Basic Life Support (BLS) credential, you can take the advanced-level NREMT paramedic certification exams. These examinations include a five-part cognitive exam from the NREMT or a state EMS office and a psychomotor exam from your state’s EMS office.

    After passing the exams, you can apply for paramedic licensure with the appropriate licensing body within your state.

Paramedic Education

Paramedics typically complete two training programs, one for the EMT credential and one for the paramedic credential. You can complete both training programs in a little over a year.

EMT Training Program

EMT training requirements vary by state but typically require at least 150 hours of instruction. All paramedics must complete an EMT training program and certification exams before pursuing paramedic certification and licensure.

  • Admission Requirements: At least 18 years old and a high school diploma or GED certificate; Background or criminal checks and CPR certification may be required
  • Program Curriculum: Patient assessment, EMS operations, airway and breathing, and trauma care
  • Time to Complete: Less than one year
  • Skills Learned: BLS and CPR, emergency services communication, stabilizing and transporting patients, and automated external defibrillator (AED) usage

Paramedic Training Program

Paramedic training programs vary in length and curriculum but usually feature a minimum of 1,000 hours of instruction over about one year. State-approved paramedic programs may lead to certificates or associate degrees. In addition to leading to paramedic licensure, associate degrees can prepare you for more advanced degrees, such as a bachelor’s in nursing.

  • Admission Requirements: At least 18 years old, a high school diploma or GED certificate, current EMT certification or license and CPR certification, background and criminal checks, and about six months of EMT experience
  • Program Curriculum: Advanced EMT skills, EMT skills practicum, EMS cardiology, special population responses, cardiac life support, trauma and emergency care
  • Time to Complete: 1-2 years
  • Skills Learned: Advanced CPR and BLS, medical triage, intravenous and intubation, ECG and defibrillator usage

Paramedic Licensure and Certification

Many organizations use EMS licensure and certification interchangeably. While both are mandatory, they differ because certification is provided by non-governmental organizations, while licensure is provided by state governments.

In most states, paramedics need certification from NREMT to qualify for state licensure. For paramedic certification, you need to hold the following:

  • Current EMT certification
  • Current CPR and BLS credential
  • Completed CAAHEP-accredited paramedic program
  • Passing scores on the cognitive and psychomotor certification exams

Once certified and licensed, you must renew your paramedic credential every two years by completing 60 hours of continuing education at the national, state, local, and individual levels. Courses must be state-approved or accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Prehospital Continuing Education (CAPCE). You can also recertify by completing a cognitive competency exam.

Working as a Paramedic

The paramedic field has a stable job outlook. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects a slightly faster-than-average occupational growth of 5% between 2022 and 2032. Payscale reports an average annual paramedic salary of $58,562 and about $48,000 annually for EMTs as of May 2024.

Paramedics will continue to play a very important role in the healthcare sector. As a licensed paramedic, you can find work in ambulance services, hospitals, and outpatient care centers, plus public organizations like community paramedicine programs.

The experience you acquire throughout the licensing process can significantly impact your employability in certain sectors, so choose your internships and EMT placements strategically.

Frequently Asked Questions About Becoming a Paramedic

Becoming a paramedic varies by state and chosen pathway, but it can take up to four years to earn licensure. In most cases, however, you can complete both your EMT and paramedic licenses in about two years.

Page last reviewed on May 31, 2024