Becoming a Paramedic Careers & Salary Outlook

What is a Paramedic and What do They Do?


There are few professions as important, exciting, or rewarding as that of the paramedic. Their shifts are frequently adrenaline fueled and hugely rewarding. These medical professionals are often the first on the scene of horrible accidents, they show up to help heart attack victims, and they even help women deliver their babies into the world.

As professionals, paramedics can pursue work for a fire department or through an ambulance service. Some even have special training to work in far-off, remote areas where they rescue and offer triage to lost and injured hikers, hunters, and others. However, most emergency personnel work in urban or suburban areas where they help people survive long enough to reach the hospital emergency room, where the doctors and nurses take over the remainder of their care.

Steps to Becoming a Paramedic


A paramedic is a healthcare and emergency services professional who is often the first on the scene of a healthcare emergency. Paramedics administer triage care to people who have suffered heart attacks, strokes, car accidents, and more. In many cases, paramedics are able to revive patients and deliver them to a hospital where doctors and nurses can deliver thorough or ongoing care. This profession is very intense but can also be highly rewarding.

Paramedics may also face great dangers on the job. Sometimes they are called to violent scenes where the perpetrator may still be at large. They also deal with people who may be mentally ill and/or prone to violent outbursts. Since they are first responders, they enter scenes where there are many unknown variables in play. For instance, cars at an accident scene may be leaking fuel and prone to explosion.

Still, paramedics save people’s lives on a weekly, if not daily, basis. Though they are not allowed to follow up on their patients, if they are able to deliver a person to the hospital with a pulse, they have done their job. Despite the enormous stress and pressure paramedics surely face, this is undoubtedly a very rewarding profession.

None of these heroics would be possible without terrific training. Paramedics must be well-prepared in academic and real-world scenarios before they are licensed to work in their state. Thus, every paramedic is a dedicated, vetted professional who can remain calm under intense pressure. While each state might have its own unique certification requirements for its emergency medical personnel, they are all stringent and thorough.

  • Step 1: Education Requirements

  • Step 2: Internship or Apprentice

  • Step 3: Licensing & Certifications

  • Step 4: Continuing Education and License Maintenance

steps to take paramedic careers

Step 1: Education Requirements

To become a paramedic, each allied healthcare professional must complete the specific academic training necessary for the position. For the best success, candidates should complete a paramedic education program accredited by the CAAHEP. This education will pave the way to certification with the National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians. Many community colleges offer this training as part of their curriculum.

Since paramedics are at the top of the ladder for emergency medical technicians, theirs is a longer process. A full paramedic training program can be up to a two-year academic journey. However, some start off with an EMT-basic course which might include a wilderness EMT, volunteer experience, or other additional training prior to moving on to become a paramedic. These courses and experiences will teach these professionals how to save a life.

Step 2: Internship or Apprentice

A key part of any medical training is the all-important internship or apprentice portion of one's education. In this stage, budding paramedics will learn to apply what they learned in the classroom. After all, nothing can substitute a real-world application of this training. When an apprentice is on the streets trying to treat victims who are bleeding and screaming, their training can solidify as it is applied in a real-world situation.

Step 3: Licensing & Certifications

Paramedics all must study and train hard to earn a license from their state. The process is rigorous, to match the profession. However, each state has their own specific guidelines and certification requirements.

With that said, there are general guidelines that may be helpful for those who are considering the profession. That is, most states will require that candidates pass a state-approved paramedic training course. Thus, most community colleges that offer a paramedic training program will have curriculum that has been approved by their state's health department. It's vital to confirm this before enrolling, however.

Once candidates have satisfactorily completed their paramedic courses, states generally require that they pass a comprehensive paramedic licensure examination. Often this exam is a two-part test of a candidate's ability to provide emergency medicine. One part is the cognitive exam, which is a standard exam of the pen-and-paper variety, though it may be delivered electronically. The second part of the paramedic examination is the practical examination, which simulates one or more emergency situations. The stress level is reported to be high in the practical exam, but a well-prepared paramedic candidate will be able to conduct patient assessment and deliver emergency medical treatment with no problem.

Step 4: Continuing Education and License Maintenance

To maintain a paramedic license, most states require that licensed professionals continue to gain continuing education throughout their career. As a rule of thumb, prospective paramedics should plan on completing around 30 hours of additional training for each licensure period. Some states are sure to have specific requirements for those hours, such as renewing CPR/ACLS certification or an ethics course, for instance.

Paramedics can use this opportunity to start studying related fields. For instance, some paramedics take courses in nursing, which they might later apply towards an RN or LPN certification. Some even take pre-med courses and later apply to medical school. This way, they are able to gain invaluable experience providing medical care while building towards other professions in the medical community.

Training and experience as a paramedic can be invaluable for those who want to become RNs or ER doctors, among other specialties. In fact, working as a paramedic can help a professional discover exactly what sort of specialty area they wish to pursue. That is, certain experiences might lead to a pediatric specialty while others may become passionate about heart surgery after treating multiple patients in the throes of cardiac arrest.

Where Do Paramedics Work and Who Do They Work For?


Paramedics usually work for hospitals and ambulance services. They spend their shifts in an ambulance, driving to answer the calls of people experiencing emergencies. Paramedics apply emergency medical care and then take those people to the nearest hospital for advanced medical care. Paramedics find that there are more jobs available in larger urban areas, which tend to have more hospitals and more patients to care for.

While most paramedics work in urban and suburban areas, some also work deep in the wild. Wilderness EMTs are specialists in the emergency medical care field who are specially trained to rescue hikers and other adventurers who encounter trouble in the forest or other wilderness environments. Regardless of where they work, paramedics are more likely than most professionals to have irregular schedules. Many ambulance workers, for instance, have to work nights, weekends, and many holidays. After all, people experience healthcare emergencies around the clock.

Why Become a Paramedic?


People become paramedics for a wide range of reasons. Some are considering medical school and thus take a job as a paramedic to help gain experience. Others might pursue the profession because it is often fast-paced, intense, and rewarding. Work as a paramedic is also great preparation for work as an ER nurse.

On top of these reasons, paramedics often make a good salary, receive ample benefits packages, and generally find an economically successful life in the profession. They also find that there are positions available in every town and city of the nation. Thus, many young paramedics spend a few years traveling, working as they go. In fact, much like nurses, there are so-called travel paramedics who are placed with ambulance services or hospitals by employment agencies that facilitate any licensure or other issues. Thus, the career of a paramedic offers a great deal of flexibility for those who want it.

Professional Organizations


There are several associations available for emergency medical professionals. No matter what the precise nature of the organization, these associations help all members grow and develop in their field. These organizations offer members special certifications, educational opportunities, and professional advocacy, among other benefits. In fact, members invariably find fellowship, leadership opportunities, and special publications as a result of membership in these groups. No career is complete without membership in a professional organization. In fact, even students find that these organizations offer them benefits they may not want to pass up. With special student rates, aspiring paramedics can join and begin dabbling in the real-world side of the emergency medical profession and move toward gaining certifications that can help them succeed.

  • International Association of EMTs and Paramedics
    This is a labor union for paramedics and EMTs that spans the globe. This organization lobbies and fights for their members to have proper salaries and working conditions. Members are protected by a strong cadre of labor attorneys and more.
  • National EMS Management Association
    Emergency medical professionals are welcome to join this national organization, where they will find special certifications, job openings, and learning opportunities, among other benefits. Members are also able to receive special association publications. Their goal is for all members to be excellent leaders in the EMS profession.
  • National Association of Emergency Medical Technicians
    The NAEMT is a vital part of the emergency medical community. Their members are able to take advantage of educational opportunities, advocacy, and numerous association publications. They even offer a healthy list of webinars and podcasts that will keep paramedics informed and growing in their field.

Paramedic Career, Salary and Advancement Outlook


For those starting out in the profession, including those still in school, the matters of salary and long-term job prospects loom large. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) collects data on all careers, and their prognosis for paramedics is positive. However, their statistics group EMTs and Paramedics under the same umbrella, which may not reflect the reality for either group. That is, the BLS shows that the median salary for these professions is around $37,000 while many states and municipalities tend to pay paramedics on a separate scale, which is often more than EMTs.

Meanwhile, Payscale.com shows that paramedics earn an average salary that exceeds $50,000. Keep in mind that this number is culled from a national survey, as are the BLS statistics. Paramedics in large cities or wealthier towns may be paid far more. Further, it's often the case that paramedics who work for fire departments are paid far better, and have better overall working conditions, than paramedics who work for private ambulance services. For comparison, the BLS reports that the median salary for firefighters is over $52,000 per year. Thus, a significant amount of all salaries in that field are more than that. Again, emergency personnel are paid differently according to what their local area can support.

Apart from salary, the BLS report shows that emergency personnel are expected to increase their numbers by 6% by 2029. This figure is characterized as being faster than average, which bodes well for aspiring emergency professionals.

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