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How to Become a Paramedic

NurseJournal Staff
Updated April 18, 2023
Interested in becoming a paramedic? Learn about job responsibilities, education requirements, and salary expectations here.
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EMT Certification Required

If you are interested in learning how to become a paramedic, this guide can help you make the right choice for your career.

Paramedics need proper certification for employment and a license, depending on state requirements. Most paramedic programs build on the emergency medical technician (EMT) certification. In total, it can take 1-3 years to become a paramedic.

Keep reading to find out what paramedics do, how much they get paid, and necessary qualifications for paramedic and EMT certification.

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What Is a Paramedic?

Paramedics provide advanced emergency medical care for critically ill or injured patients. Becoming a paramedic may be a good path for you if you want to begin your healthcare career faster or spend less on your education.

Paramedics, also called first responders, are trained in advanced emergency care. Although a hospital or ambulance setting is common, there are many other job opportunities for paramedics.

Generally, paramedics must be EMT-certified within the last six months prior to employment, but certification and licensure requirements vary by state.

Job duties for first responders include responding to medical emergencies and providing emergency interventions, such as performing CPR, giving medications, bandaging wounds, stabilizing broken bones, and administering oxygen. Paramedics provide care, then transport the patient safely to emergency medical facilities.

Steps to Becoming a Paramedic

The steps to becoming a paramedic include completing a state-approved EMT course, passing the NREMT exam to receive EMT certification, gaining on-the-job experience, and then taking a paramedic course.

Although there are some generalities when it comes to requirements, each state varies in the exact criteria for paramedic certification and licensure.

  1. 1

    Complete your EMT Certification

    To get certified as an EMT, you must be at least 18 years old and have a GED or high school diploma. For EMT program admission, you need CPR certification. The CPR class must also offer a basic life support for healthcare workers certification, which is available through the American Heart Association.

    Other prerequisites include the completion of a National Emergency Medical Services Education Standards- or other state-approved EMT program, which typically takes two years to complete, and a passing score on the written examination.

  2. 2

    Pass the NREMT Exam to Receive EMT Licensure

    Certified EMTs must pass the National Registry Emergency Medical Technician (NREMT) cognitive exam with a score of between 70 to 120 points to obtain licensure. The exam covers topics like resuscitation, EMS operations, and medical care. Students must also pass a psychomotor skills exam, which evaluates the physical ability to properly and safely administer treatment, such as managing cardiac arrest.

  3. 3

    Gain Experience in EMT

    Typically, EMTs must have at least six months’ experience to qualify for paramedic training, but like other prerequisites, the requirement for time spent on the job varies by state. Some states require up to two years’ experience to be eligible for paramedic training.

  4. 4

    Complete a Paramedic as an EMT

    Becoming a paramedic requires completing a 1-2 year program accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) or a paramedic program or one that complies with the National Emergency Medical Services Education Standards for paramedics. You must have completed the course within the past two years of your test. The director of your program must sign off on the National Registry website, confirming you have done so.

  5. 5

    Apply for NREMT Paramedic Certification and State Licensure

    Paramedics must be EMT-certified. This means you must have already passed a state-approved EMT course and a CPR/basic life support course. Next, you must complete a state-approved paramedic course and take the NREMT exam to become certified. The certification guidelines, such as how many hours your paramedic training must entail, depend on your state of residency.

    The steps to applying for certification and licensure include:

    • Apply online
    • Pay a $152 nonrefundable application fee
    • Wait for National Registry approval
    • Schedule your exam
    • Pass the 80-150 question exam

Paramedic Education

Paramedic education includes successful completion of EMT training and certification and state-approved paramedic training.

EMT Training Program

EMT training requires a minimum of 170 hours. However, some states demand 180 hours or more. Check with your state of residence to ensure the program you select meets their requirements.

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    Admission Requirements

    Minimum age of 18, high school or GED diploma, CPR/basic life support for healthcare providers certification. Some schools require admission tests and/or criminal background checks.

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    Program Curriculum

    Emergency medical care, legal and ethical issues, anatomy and physiology, body mechanics, airway and breathing, circulation, radio communication

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    Time to Complete

    Up to six months. Training must be completed within two years of taking the certification exam.

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    Skills Learned

    Ambulance driving, use of the radio for communication, examination/assessment skills, CPR and basic life support, applying neck braces, controlling bleeding

Paramedic Training Program

State-approved paramedic courses usually take up to 12 months to complete and most require between 1,200 and 1,800 hours, depending on your state of residence.

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    Admission Requirements

    At least 21 years of age, a high school or GED diploma, completion of a state-approved EMT course, CPR/basic life support for healthcare providers certification, up to two years of experience as an EMT (depending on your state’s requirements). Certification in advanced cardiac life support and pediatric advanced life support are also required.

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    Program Curriculum

    Advanced patient assessment principles, pharmacology, paramedic respiratory management and cardiology, advanced emergency resuscitation, clinical field practicums

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    Time to Complete

    12-24 months, depending on the program

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    Skills Learned

    Advanced CPR and basic life support skills, inserting IV lines, medication administration, pacemaker applications, EKG interpretation, medical triage, assisting in emergency childbirth

Paramedic Licensure and Certification

Licensure is the state’s grant of legal authority. Certification attests to the level of knowledge and skills a person has in a specific classification. Each state governs a paramedic’s licensure requirements.

State certification is required for both EMTs and paramedics. Most states accept the NREMT certification exam, but others mandate state-specific examinations.

After successful completion of a state-approved EMT course, and within two years of taking the certification exam, you must meet additional qualifications, including:

  • National Registry website verification of completed coursework
  • Current CPR-basic life support for healthcare providers certification
  • Passing grade on the EMT cognitive exam
  • Passing grade on the psychomotor exam

The EMT cognitive exam fee is $98.

Once you receive your EMT certification and successfully complete a state-approved paramedic course, you can apply for licensure.

Like the EMT certification, paramedic licensure requirements vary by state, but most states accept the National Emergency Medical Services Education Standards for Paramedics’ requirements, which include:

  • Current EMT certification or state licensure
  • Current CPR-basic life support healthcare provider or equivalent certification
  • Successful completion of a state-approved or CAAHEP-accredited paramedic education program
  • National Registry website verification from the paramedic course program director
  • A passing grade on the cognitive exam for paramedics
  • Successfully completing the psychomotor competency exam

Paramedics must renew their license every two years by obtaining at least 60 hours of continuing education. Paramedics may alternatively renew licensure by taking an online, 80-150-question cognitive test. The fee for the paramedic cognitive exam is $152, with a renewal fee of $32.

In addition to the standard paramedic certification, there are several specializations available by the Board for Critical Care Transport Certification, including:

  • Flight paramedic certification for emergency flight transport units
  • Critical care certification for advanced knowledge of in-hospital and pre-hospital emergency care
  • Tactical paramedic certification for law enforcement
  • Community paramedic certification for at-home or other non-urgent settings (under the supervision of a physician or nurse practitioner)

Working as a Paramedic

Skilled paramedics and EMTs are in great demand across the country. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the job outlook for paramedics could increase by 11% between 2020 and 2030.

In addition, Payscale data from August 2022 shows the average annual salary for paramedics at $51,010, with a median hourly wage of $19.65 per hour.

Although most paramedics work in hospitals or for an ambulance service, there are several other job settings available, including local government, seasonal day camps, consultant work, and advising on state or federal emergency medical services. Paramedics can also pursue specialty certifications to work in air rescue or ocean rescue transport.

Frequently Asked Questions About Becoming a Paramedic

question-mark-circleHow many years does it take to become a paramedic?

It usually takes six months to complete an EMT training course and 12 months to finish paramedic training. Depending on your state requirements, you may need to complete between six months and two years of EMT experience to become a paramedic.

question-mark-circleWhat is the quickest way to become a paramedic?

The quickest way is to obtain your EMT certification, then enroll in a community college or technical school that offers a state-approved paramedic certification and licensure.

question-mark-circleHow hard is it to become a paramedic?

The training and experience needed to become a paramedic can be challenging. Paramedics must become skilled at advanced emergency medical care in a short amount of time.

question-mark-circleDo paramedics get paid well?

According to Payscale data from August 2022, the average annual salary for paramedics is $51,010 per year, or $19.65 per hour.

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