What Do You Need to be a Paramedic?

Paramedics are the highest level of Emergency Medical Technicians, undergoing a rigorous training and education path in order to ensure that they are well equipped with knowledge and experience to safely perform necessary functions in the field.

But what does a paramedic need in order to get hired and perform his or her job at a high level?

Well, for starters, paramedics should be dedicated to the field, have a strong work ethic, be able to perform in fast-paced environments and be physically capable of attending to any emergency situation that may come about.

But before taking action towards a paramedic career, individuals should seek to understand what else it will take to become a paramedic–including the education, experience and training necessary to become certified.

In addition to the information provided, many professionals working in the field suggest that prospective paramedic students volunteer through their local fire department or emergency response teams to gain hands-on knowledge of the environment. This will assist those interested in the field in deciding if the career is a proper fit, and prepare individuals for what they can expect during training and beyond.

As you can see, this article will be dedicated to helping you better understand what exactly you need—and need to do—to become a reliable working paramedic in the emergency medical care field.

Getting to Know the Paramedic Job and Duties

Paramedics are the first response team when an emergency arises in the area. This can include such emergencies as home health failures, natural disasters and auto accidents. While tending to a patient, a paramedic may preform advanced levels of emergency care, as well as the typical duties of an EMT.

The first responder will most often be charged with completion of a medical assessment on the patient(s), so it is essential that they possess the correct knowledge to do so with accuracy.

Through training and experience, paramedics also learn such patient care as:

  • Cardiac support
  • Emergency respiratory procedures
  • Administering IV fluids and medications
  • Bandaging wounds
  • Stabilizing a patient with head or neck injuries to avoid further injury
  • Resuscitation
  • Assisting in child birth

This career can be both rewarding and challenging, and also offers opportunities for paramedics to pursue other areas of the field that will provide a more exiting work environment, as well as opportunities for travel.

A paramedic career can also be finically rewarding, with the average paramedic salary being approximately $40,000 annually. Other benefits may include health coverage, 401k and other perks that variety by agency.

But how does one begin as a paramedic and what does it take to acquire certification? Well, the following steps below can be utilized as a guide when working towards a career as a paramedic.

Meeting Prerequisites

If the individual considering a paramedic career is still attending high school, it is advised to begin a proper education as early as possible by choosing courses such as biology and chemistry. Paramedics must have a high school degree so it is essential that the student complete their basic education with a G.P.A of at least 2.0.

In addition, all immunizations must be up to date and the individual must be able to display that they possess the physical strength and stamina to preform typical paramedic tasks. Keeping healthy and regular checkups are important in order to assure these prerequisites can be met. Once the student has graduated from high school they can begin the necessary steps in order to meet or exceed the requirements of a paramedic education and career.

EMT-B Certification

Any individual electing to take paramedic courses must first become a certified EMT by taking the EMT Certification Test administered by the NREMT or National Registry of Emergency Technicians. Courses are typically offered through most community colleges, universities and technical schools and take approximately 6 months to complete.

The EMT-B certification will allow the individual to provide basic medical care and work in ambulances or fire emergency vehicles. A combination of didactic education and hands-on training for the EMT-B is completed in 120 to 150 hours, depending on the institute requirements.

Once the training and education have been completed, the individual may then apply to take the EMT certification course. On average, the NREMT recommends that the individual allow 6 months for study in preparation for this test and students will find many resources for self-study including books, online study guides and practice tests.

The test will consist of two sections, cognitive and psychomotor, designed to assure that the individual is fully prepared for work as an Emergency Technician. Each student is provided a total number of six attempts at passing, after which they will be required to retake the EMT courses before being allowed additional tries.

The test will gauge skills in such areas as:

  • Airway and Respiration
  • Ventilation
  • Cardiology and Resuscitation
  • Trauma
  • Medical and Obstetrics/Gynecology
  • Other daily EMT operations
  • Specific Patient related care including adults, pediatric and the elderly

 Field Experience

Though the NREMT does not require a specific amount of time working in the field as an EMT in order to take the paramedic certification test, many paramedic schools recommend that students spend at least 6 months working as an EMT before beginning the educational path to paramedic.

This allows time for the individual to become accustomed to the work environment, gain more hands-on experience and assures that they possess the dedication necessary to become a paramedic.

The individual can chose to pursue this experience in a number of ways. Volunteering at local fire stations and emergency rooms can open doors for networking that could lead to an entry level position after graduation. In other cases, the school itself may list internship opportunities that could provide permanent work upon completion.

It is important to browse local job listings and the company websites of emergency services operating in the area, as well as ask around for possible opportunities. Many individuals entering paramedic testing have obtained an average 2 years’ experience as an EMT prior to the examination.

Obtaining a Paramedic Education

There are several ways you can choose to obtain the necessary paramedic education. Some colleges offer online courses in which the individual completes the in-class portions remotely rather than in a traditional physical location. The traditional method of receiving the education through a university or technical school can be completed over the course of two years and students can elect to pursue a full degree or simply gain the training necessary for paramedic certification.

Taking the degree option may also entail other general education courses depending on the requirements of the institution. Recently introduced, and of much controversy, is the accelerated program in which two years of classroom training is reduced to 12 weeks. This type of program can be beneficial if the individual has accumulated several years’ experience as an EMT or other related field, but could lead to unnecessary setbacks if planning to move forward without obtaining EMT experience first.

Regardless of the type of didactic training the individual receives, they will also be required to complete an internship in order to fulfill completion requirements of the program. This hands-on training portion of the program is similar in length and hours, regardless of which route the student opted to attend and typically range from 300 to 500 hours. Some educational institutions offer internship placement while others leave the task of securing placement to the individual and many companies may elect to provide the individual with training as part of the hiring process.

These in-field practice hours are an essential part of the training process, regardless of the individual’s former experience as an EMT. Though both preform the same functions, paramedic training offers the student an opportunity for practice with more advance functions, as well as gaining a feel for the environment involved in being part of the first response team.

Paramedic Licensing

Similar to the EMT certification examination, aspiring paramedics must prepare for and pass the Paramedic Certification Examination, which is also administered by the NREMT.

Once students have completed the necessary requirements, including completion of an accredited paramedic program, the typical study time for this examination is 6 months or more. Students will also find study materials including books, online guides and practice tests that will be helpful while preparing for the test.

In the case of both the EMT and Paramedic study material, some students may also benefit from Audio Study Guides in which they can utilize the same materials found in written preparation for even more self-study. Also similar, the test consists of two sections, cognitive and psychomotor, which will take approximately 2 hours to complete.

The test is designed to assure that individuals pursuing a career in the paramedic field are not only prepared for the basic medical care provided by EMTs, but more advanced functions, assessment and patient care.

Upon successfully passing the paramedic certification examination and receiving licensing, the individual will then be authorized by their specific state to work professionally in the field. Each paramedic is required to recertify every 2 to 3 years by retaking the test or through the use of continuing education credits, which can be accumulated in many combinations of ongoing class room education and experience in the field.

Many individuals also choose to branch out into additional fields once they have worked a number of years as a paramedic and further explore emergency response careers such as those working as flight paramedics. Many of the specialized fields offer increased benefits, salaries and exiting challenges for the individual to explore.

It is recommended to begin the initial processes to become a paramedic as early as possible after making the educated choice to pursue this career, though the steps can begin at any stage in one’s career.

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