How to Become an EMT
The Definitive Career Guide

Avg. Salary

Education Duration
1-2 Years

Job Outlook

Every time there is an emergency, first responders are right there to step up and get everyone back to safety.

Most of the time, they show up in the form of an EMT.

An EMT is a specially trained person who knows how to de-escalate a serious situation, as well as the experience to assist with medical attention.

You can find EMTs driving ambulances, working in the emergency room, as well as fire departments and private ambulance companies.

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What is an EMT?

Working as an EMT is a very serious job and shouldn’t be taken lightly.

An EMT, Emergency Medical Technician, is someone who provides immediate lifesaving care to people in dire situations.

Some of the types of things they may do include:

  • Assisting with drug overdoses
  • Intubation
  • Perform CPR

All while chaos is going on around them.

This career takes a lot of mental focus, stamina, and a strong stomach.

Those who have a strong desire to help others are best suited for this field.


Along with providing interventions like intubation and CPR, an EMT has many duties that need to be done quickly, such as:

  • Assist in administering medications
  • Start IVs
  • Provide airway management assistance
  • Resuscitate patients
  • Prepare patients to be transported

Though an EMT has most of the same duties as a Paramedic, they are not allowed to perform procedures on patients like applying pacemakers or administering drugs.


Most EMTs with minimum education will make around $36,930 a year in the United States.

Those who have just begun their career as an EMT will make less, closer to $28,320 a year in some parts of the country.

While knowledge gained and time served, it is possible for an EMT to make over $60,000 a year.

EMTs who work in Washington will make over $60,000, while an EMT working in Maryland may only make $49,000 a year.

Other factors that may contribute to your salary is the size of the hospital where you work, and the size of the population surrounding your job.

Hands-on experience and certification in CPR and other specialties will provide higher wages and a chance of promotions in this career.

  • Annually
  • Monthly
  • Hourly

Annually National Average Salary: $36,690


Average Annual Salary by State

StateAvg. Annual Salary
District of Columbia$48,500
New Hampshire$35,670
New Jersey$40,360
New Mexico$34,620
New York$41,120
North Carolina$36,090
North Dakota$34,150
Rhode Island$42,460
South Carolina$35,140
South Dakota$32,570
West Virginia$28,530
Puerto Rico$20,840

Annual Average Salary: Top 5 States

The top earning state in the field is Hawaii, where the average salary is $55,600.

These are the top 5 earning states in the field:

Hawaii - $55,600
Alaska - $51,330
Maryland - $50,770
District of Columbia - $48,500
Illinois - $44,460
* Salary information based on May 2021 Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) Survey for Emergency Medical Technicians, OCC Code 29-2042, BLS.
* Employment conditions in your area may vary.

How to Become an EMT

Step 1 Enter a Program

Working as an EMT, you will definitely benefit from some type of education program.

There are a couple of options for programs for EMT’s, for example, there are one-year programs through trade schools or medical facilities.

Other people choose to work toward an Associate’s degree, which takes about two years to finish, and often provides an externship to gain hands-on experience.

In order to enroll in a one-year program or an Associate’s degree program, you must have:

  • A high school diploma or GED
  • 5 GPA
  • Be at least 18 years old
  • Be CPR certified

Some of the types of things you can expect to learn in any EMT program are:

  • Fundamentals of patient care
  • How to control bleeding
  • Cardiac emergency response
  • How to assess patient condition
  • How to manage airways

With an Associates degree program, there will likely be many other classes, including:

  • Anatomy and Physiology
  • Medical Terminology
  • Bloodborne Pathogens
  • Childbirth

Step 2 Become Licensed

After completing an EMT training program, whether a one-year program or an Associate’s degree, you must take the EMT certification exam given by the National Registry of Emergency Technicians.

This exam will show that you are capable of doing your job as an EMT and that you have the knowledge and ethics needed for this career.

The exam is given through the computer and is typically around 120 questions.

You can expect to pay around $80 to take this exam.

Some of the areas of interest for the EMT certification exam are:

  • Airway, respiration, and ventilation
  • Cardiology and resuscitation
  • Trauma
  • EMS Operations
  • Medical; OBGYN

If you do not pass the exam the first time you take it, you will be allowed 6 tries in total.

Once you pass the exam, you will be able to work as a licensed EMT.

Step 3 Gain Experience

Being licensed is extremely important in this career, but hands-on experience is key as well.

When you start your journey to become an EMT, you should make sure that the program you enroll in has some type of externship or ability for you to gain experience while also getting school credit.

Externships can allow you to work in places like:

  • Hospitals
  • Clinics
  • Emergency Centers

Once you become licensed, then you can take what you learned through your schooling and apply it to your job.

There are many opportunities for EMT’s around the hospital and beyond, including:

  • Search and Rescue Medic
  • Ski Patrol Medic
  • EMS Instructor
  • Flight Paramedic
  • Firefighter

Having at least two years of experience as an EMT will provide you the opportunity to gain promotions in the field, as well as the possibility for certification or specialization.

Step 4 Become a Paramedic

On your journey to becoming an EMT, you may have realized that you won’t have as many responsibilities as a Paramedic.

That is because Paramedics need more education to do the tasks that they’re required to do.

Most Paramedic programs will last another 1-2 years, depending on the type of program you enter.

It’s possible to earn a Bachelor’s degree as a Paramedic through some universities.

While learning to become a Paramedic, you can expect to learn things like:

  • How to administer medication
  • Start IVs
  • Stitching wounds
  • Intubating patients

It’s possible to gain specialization in a specific field as an EMT or paramedic, including:

  • Pediatrics
  • Obstetrical emergencies
  • Cardiac care
  • Trauma

Once you become a Paramedic, you can then be promoted into a supervisor role.

Beyond that, your career opportunities are endless.

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As an EMT, you have a couple of choices when it comes to the type of education you want to receive.

You can earn a one-year certificate, which can be done online or at local trade schools or community colleges.

or, you can work toward an Associate’s degree, which can lead to promotions and even a Bachelor’s degree.

A one year program can provide entry-level education as an EMT.

Some of the types of things you will learn through this type of program include:

  • Medical Terminology
  • Anatomy and Physiology
  • Patient Care
  • Hazardous Materials
  • First Responder courses

Those who earn a one year certificate will want to make sure that their program is accredited with the National Registry of Emergency Technicians.

This association is the only one approved to license EMTs, and you will need to graduate from an accredited program in order to become licensed.

Programs are available throughout the country, some are online and some are in the classroom.

The important part is that you gain hands-on experience in real life.

This means you may have to take an internship or externship in order to become knowledgeable about the career.

You will also need to take labs and clinicals, and you may even want to shadow a fellow EMT to see what they do on a daily basis.

Learning and gaining experience are the most important parts of working as an EMT.

Due to the nature of the career, many EMTs choose to go through an Associate’s degree program.

Lasting around two years, an Associates degree program is your doorstep into higher levels in the medical field.

EMT Associates degree programs can be found at local colleges and universities, as well as online.

These programs will delve deeper into the world of EMTs, providing students with courses such as:

  • Basic Life Support
  • Respiratory and Cardiac Arrest
  • Pharmacology
  • Management of ACS and Stroke
  • Effective Communication

After earning an Associate’s degree, you can work toward becoming a Paramedic and gain a Bachelor’s degree.

This will take another two to four years, depending on the university.

Video About The Career

Licensing and Certification

There are many states that require EMTs to become licensed once they graduate from an accredited program.

This licensure comes from the National Registry of Emergency Technicians and has several requirements.

In order to gain licensure, prospective must take the EMTs must take the Emergency Medical Technician certification exam.

Also, a fee of $80 must be paid before taking the exam.

There are two parts to the exam, which must both be taken and passed before becoming licensed:

  • Cognitive exam
  • Psychomotor exam

The cognitive exam is a computer adaptive test, which means that when you answer more questions correctly, you will need to answer fewer questions.

Most exams average between 70 to 120 questions and are multiple-choice.

Some of the types of things to expect in the Emergency Medical Technician certification exam are:

  • Airway
  • Cardiology and Resuscitation
  • Trauma
  • Pediatric Patients
  • EMS Operations

There is a minimum passing score that is allowed for this exam, and it changes all of the time, so check your local board to find out more information.

The psychomotor exam is an exam to show that you are capable of physically and mentally handle the job.

This exam is performed by the training program that you graduated from, and should consist of the following demonstrations:

  • Management of a trauma patient
  • Cardiac arrest management
  • Bone immobilization
  • Bleeding control
  • Shock management
  • CPR

All prospective EMTs will have to demonstrate that they can do all of the above, as well as more procedures not listed.

The instructor must sign off on the exam and submit it to the association.

Once both parts of the test are completed, then you will be a licensed EMT and can work in the state that you took the exam.

This licensure needs to be renewed every two years, and in order to gain renewal, EMTs must show:

  • At least 20 hours of continued education
  • Or that they have retaken the exam

Certification Example:

emt certificate

Average Training Program Duration: 1-2 Years

Some EMT programs can take about one year to finish and can lead to a certificate.

These programs can be done online or in classrooms at trade schools or community colleges across the United States.

There may be some physical and mental aspects to the program, due to the nature of the career.

Some programs also require that students participate in a minimum amount of externship hours.

This could be anywhere from 50-120, depending on the school.

It could take anywhere from 1 year to 2 years to finish an EMT program.

Job Outlook

There will likely be a growth of career opportunities for EMT’s of around 11 percent over the next couple of years.

Due to an increasing number of car accidents, as well as other health-related issues, EMTs are needed more now than ever before.

Also, the baby boomer generation is growing older, which means that the need will likely increase even more over the next decade.

If you are looking to start a career as an EMT, now would be a great time to begin.

Employment Growth Projection: 11%


That's a higher than average projected growth of 28,600

Should You Become an EMT?

Overall Satisfaction: Medium

Overall Satisfaction

This career can be extremely stressful, so it takes someone with thick skin to be successful.

Working with people in their scariest or most painful moments can be triggering.

The hours can be rough as well, often working over-nights and overtime.

That doesn’t mean this job is all bad, EMT’s find this career to be a good choice because they are helping people and their community.

Average Salary: Medium

Average Salary

Most EMTs in the United States will make about $36,930 a year.

After several years of experience and education, you can expect to make over $60,000 in some areas as an EMT.

However, when just starting out in this field, you’ll make close to $28,320 a year.

Those working in large hospitals or in higher populated areas will likely find better wages and career opportunities.

Certifications and specializations will also play a role in how much money you can make a year as an EMT.

Job Growth Outlook: Medium

Job Growth Outlook

EMTs have an important job, and will likely be needed for many years to come.

This being said, the career will grow around 11 percent over the next decade.

Across the medical field, this career will grow at about the same rate as other careers.

The rise in this career is due to the baby boomer generation growing older and needing more medical care, as well as advancements in technology which have made it easier to treat patients in emergencies.

People who have experience in the medical field and enjoy helping others will find the most job prospects in this area.

Education Duration: 1-2 Years

Education Duration

Depending on the type of program that you enter into, it can take anywhere from 1 to 2 years to become an EMT.

A type EMT program can take about one year to finish, and provides basic level education to start your career as an EMT.

These programs can be found online or locally at trade schools and community colleges.

Other types of programs that result in an Associate’s degree can take about two years to finish.

These programs will provide more hands-on experience, as can lead to more career opportunities.

Personal Skills Needed

Personal Skills Needed

It’s important to be calm, cool and collected as an EMT.

Often, the situations that you will be working in will be chaotic and scary.

Some of the personal skills that you should strive for in this career are:

  • Ability to work as a team
  • Communication skills
  • Empathy
  • Compassion
  • Ability to navigate stressful or difficult situations with ease
  • Critical thinking skills
  • Mental toughness
  • Physical stamina
  • Situational awareness
  • Problem-solving skills
  • Attention to detail

Make sure that you learn enough about the medical field to guarantee a successful career as an EMT.

Frequently Asked Questions


How much does an EMT make?

More education means a higher salary for an EMT.

If you are an EMT and you have an Associate’s degree, it’s likely that you can make up to $36,930 a year in most states.

However, with more education and experience, it’s possible to make over $60,000 a year as an EMT in areas like Washington and New York.

Those who just started their career as EMTs should expect a salary closer to $28,320 a year.

This is due to experience levels and certifications, once you become more educated in the career, your wages will increase.


How long does it take to become an EMT?

There are a lot of things that you need to learn in order to work as an EMT.

That’s why it can take a year or more to start this career.

The average EMT training program takes about one year to finish and offers entry-level education.

For those who are looking for more, an Associate’s degree is available.

This type of program can take about two years to finish for full-time students.

On average, it takes anywhere from 1-2 years to become an EMT.


What does an EMT do?

An EMT works hard, helping victims of accidents, trauma, medical issues, and much more.

These brave people are the first ones on the scene after a 911 call and are there to make sure everyone is okay.

If they find someone who is sick or injured, they will work their hardest to help the person immediately.

Sometimes, they will take patients away in an ambulance to be helped at the hospital.


What is the demand for EMTs?

EMTs are important in the medical field, so there will always be a need for them.

With the baby boomer generation aging out of the working class, it is likely that more EMTs will be needed in the near future.

Along with technological advancements in medicine, the ability for EMTs to work successfully and immediately with patients has increased.

Those who are looking to start a career as an EMT would be smart to do it soon.


How much does it cost to become an EMT?

There are many types of programs that an EMT can enroll in, and they can cost different prices as well.

A one-year program can cost anywhere from $1,500 to $5,000, depending on the program and the type of school you work with.

An Associate’s degree takes about two years, so it will cost a bit more.

Most degree programs cost anywhere from $10,000 to $15,000, depending on the school as well.

Earning a Bachelor’s degree can cost an additional $20,000 or more.

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