EMT Training

Whether or not they know it, everyone relies on Emergency Medical Technicians (EMT) every day. We rely on them to be there when we call 911, to arrive quickly, and to have the education and cool-headedness to handle the most stressful emergency medical situations. But most of us have never thought of the training that goes into becoming part of this essential medical team.

In order to begin as an EMT, students must apply for emergency medical technician training. Most programs only require that students are 18 years of age with either a high school diploma or a GED. EMT courses can take a few months, depending on the school and schedule, and include both classroom and practical instruction on the basics of anatomy, trauma care, and emergency management. At the end of training, new EMTs are eligible to take the exam given by the National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians (NREMT) which culminates in a nationally recognized certification.

The demand for EMTs is expected to grow by 15 percent between 2016 and 2026, making now an ideal time to think about pursuing training in this fast-paced career (BLS 2017). Further, many EMTs find that they love patient care and use their experience in an ambulance as a stepping stone to other medical careers.

Keep reading to learn more about what it takes to become an EMT.

E M T fast facts
Projected Jobs Created37,400
Projected Job Growth15%
Low Salary$21,880
Average Salary (Median)$36,700
High Salary$56,990
Entry-Level EDU Certification
Sourced from BLS, June 2018

Degree & certification Programs

Although specific qualifications may vary somewhat from state to state, at minimum prospective EMTs will have to complete a certification course that covers basic life support skills. These courses generally take around 120 to 150 hours to complete. EMT certification courses include training in CPR, hazardous material handling, and observation or ride alongs with working EMTs. A completed course is a prerequisite for sitting for the EMT certification exam, which will qualify incoming EMTs for entry level work.

In some states, there are multiple levels of EMT training including EMT-1 (also referred to as EMT Basics) and EMT Intermediates, followed by Paramedics. For many EMTs, an EMT certification is just the first step towards a career in medicine. Most educational institutions that offer EMT training also offer courses for paramedics, though these programs are much longer and more intensive. In fact, many paramedics training courses have EMT certification as a prerequisite for enrollment.

There are many institutions around the country that offer EMT certification courses, as listed by the Journal of Emergency Medical Services (JEMS). These schools have received accreditation from either the Committee on Accreditation of Educational Programs for the Emergency Medical Services Professions (CoAEMSP) or the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP). The accreditation process will be covered later in this article. Following is a selection of schools and organizations that offer EMT training programs.

  • California State University, Sacramento: At Sacramento State, EMT students spend nine weeks studying the basics of emergency care in both a classroom and lab setting. Upon completion of the course, students will be CPR certified through the American Heart Association and earn certifications for hazardous material handling, and Federal Emergency Management incident command.

  • Front Range Community College: With campuses offering EMT courses in Boulder, Larimer, and Westminster, Colorado the Front Range Community College EMT program is a great choice for anyone living in that state. The program, which requires 12 credits to complete, specifically prepares students to work in the fast-paced environment of emergency medicine, whether their career leads them to a job with an ambulance service, in a hospital, with a fire department, or eventually as a nurse or doctor in an emergency department. Front Range also offers a Pre-Paramedic track that goes beyond its EMT training to prepare students for a paramedic course.

  • Central Washington University: CWU, based in Ellensburg, Washington, offers an EMT certificate program as part of their Nutrition Exercise and Health Sciences school. Because this particular certification program is part of a university, students will have exposure to other courses and students that are studying such diverse areas as exercise science, clinical physiology, and nutrition. The CWU program can be a good way to begin a career as an EMT while also exploring further career and educational options.

  • Center for Emergency Medicine of Western PA: At CEM in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, EMT students are prepared to “meet the increasing demands of out-of-hospital care.” EMT students are prepared for the Pennsylvania Department of Health Emergency Medical Technician certification and also have the opportunity for CPR certification as well as national EMT certification. CEM also offers CPR training for non-EMTs and paramedic courses for those ready to pursue a more rigorous emergency life support career.

Hybrid & online programs

While the basics of an EMT training program can be completed online, there is a practical portion of the certification test that requires evaluation in person. In order to complete the NREMT certification exam, students must first pass the psychomotor portion of the test. In traditional classroom courses, these tests are administered throughout the training sessions and ultimately approved by the course instructor. Therefore, online courses generally require that students appear in person for practical instruction before they are able to complete the course.

  • PERCOM Online: PERCOM Online is a CAAHEP-accredited institution that allows students to complete all their classroom EMT work online. After passing the final exam for the EMT online courses, students are eligible to attend a three-day skills event in person, which consists of the hands-on training necessary to sit for the certification exam. The flexibility of PERCOM's program is such that students can take the online course at their own pace and register for the skills portion when ready.

  • EMTS Academy: Although EMTS academy is located in Texas, its online EMT courses are available to students across the country. Upon the successful completion of the online portion of the course students will have to make arrangements to travel to Round Rock, Texas in order to complete six skill sessions of eight hours each as well as three clinical shift days.

  • UCLA Center for Prehospital Care EMT Program: At UCLA, interested students have the option to take a traditional classroom course or an online/classroom hybrid track. The hybrid courses consist of 10 online sessions, self-paced interactive assignments, and an additional eight sessions of hands-on skills trainings. These hands-on trainings are required in order to meet certification requirements.

Core & Elective Courses

EMT training aims to give students a basic understanding of the life saving skills necessary to work in prehospital medicine. Because EMTs are expected to be able to assess and transport patients to more substantial medical care, EMT training cannot and should not cover every possible illness, injury, or medical procedure. The national EMT-Basic curriculum was developed in conjunction with the United States Department of Transportation as well as the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. A number of paramedics, EMTs, nurses, and physicians collaborated on the standard curriculum, including representatives from the American Heart Association, the International Association of Fire Chiefs and the American College of Emergency Physicians.

The EMT-Basic National Standard Curriculum is available online.

Included in the standard curriculum are courses such as:

  • Introduction to Emergency Medical Care

  • The human body

  • Lifting and moving

  • Focused history and physical exam: trauma

  • Bleeding and shock

  • Respiratory emergencies

  • Obstetrics

  • Ambulance operations

This is not a complete list, but gives an overview of what courses to expect in an EMT-Basic training course. It is also good to note that the courses are divided into the categories of:

  • Preparatory

  • Airway

  • Medical

  • Patient assessment

  • Trauma

  • Infants and children

  • Operations

EMT courses are generally quite short as compared to other medical training courses. Because of this, electives are rarely an option. While there are no specializations within the EMT-Basic certification track, students who excel may wish to continue to a more advanced track, including paramedic or eventually physician's assistant, registered nurse, or medical doctor. Of course, the curriculums for those careers are much more involved.


The two largest accrediting agencies for EMT programs are the Committee on Accreditation of Educational Programs for the Emergency Medical Services Professions (CoAEMSP) and the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP).

While CoAEMSP accreditation is required for paramedic education, it is not required for EMT programs. Some schools that offer both EMT and paramedic training may have one or both of those programs accredited. In order to seek CoAEMSP accreditation, schools must submit an application and Letter of Review for the program for which they are seeking accreditation. Upon analysis and approval, the school must complete a self study, followed by a site visit. Details of the complete accreditation process is available on the CoAEMSP website. Accreditation is available to both traditional and online emergency medical training programs.

The CAAHEP carries out its accreditation process in cooperation with the CoAEMSP. Because the CoAEMSP maintains expertise specifically in emergency medical services, they are able to provide recommendations to CAAHEP so that once an institution is accredited in its specialty, it is much easier to obtain CAAHEP accreditation as well.

Although CoAEMSP and CAAHEP accreditations are a mark of a reputable EMT program, state agencies may also approve EMT certification courses. In fact, in order to take the national certification exam, students need to have completed a course that is state approved. There is no requirement for national accreditation. The following, although not a complete list, is representative of the type of agency that would approve an EMT program and maintain an EMT certification database:

Although most programs that are accredited from a national agency will also be state approved, it is worth checking before enrolling in any EMT course.

Career Outlook

The career outlook for EMTs across the country is good. Over the next 10 years, the demand for EMTs and Paramedics is expected to grow by 15 percent between 2016 and 2026, which the Bureau of Labor Statistics categorizes as “much faster than average” (BLS 2017). This 15 percent growth will add 37,400 new jobs by 2026. As with many healthcare occupations, demand for EMTs is expected to continue to climb as the population in the U.S. continues to age and therefore need more medical care. It is important to note that the BLS tracks statistics for EMTs and Paramedics together, despite the fact that the career paths and particularly training requirements are quite different.

EMTs are often hired by ambulance companies, though many also work for fire departments or directly for hospital emergency rooms.

Career Facts E M T
Related CareersRespiratory Therapist, Registered Nurse, Licensed Practical and Licensed Vocational Nurse
Common Job TitlesEmergency Medical Technician (EMT), Emergency Medical Technician Basic (EMT, B), EMT Intermediate, EMT/Dispatchers, EMT/Driver, First Responder, Paramedic
Technology & EquipmentDefribillators, Heart And Blood Pressure Monitors, Ventilators, Sphygmomanometers, Nebulizers, Glucose Meters
Sourced from BLS, June 2018

Licensing & Certification

In the field of emergency medicine, an EMT certification is not simply a way to make yourself more attractive to employers. Indeed, emergency medical technician certification is required in order to obtain work as an EMT. Students may obtain nationally recognized certification through the NREMT or may instead choose to go through the state or local certification process. The certification requirements vary by state so students should check with their EMT instructors or their local government agencies to determine what is required in their state.

The NREMT maintains a database of certified individuals and employers will check to ensure applicants have completed their certification. The NREMT exam must be completed within two years of the EMT training course and includes both a computer based multiple choice exam and a psychomotor exam. The psychomotor portion of the exam is conducted throughout approved EMT courses, with results sent by the instructor to NREMT upon the applicant's request. EMTs must also maintain their certification by completing continuing education courses throughout their career.