How To Become an EMT - Emergency Medical Technician

In 1865, EMTs with horse-drawn carts stabilized and saved the lives of their community members. Fast-forward to today, and dialing 911 brings the assurance that help will be on its way as fast as possible.

The work of emergency medical technicians (EMTs) is critical when functioning under high stress, in crisis mode, and in medical emergencies. Citizens rely upon these medical professionals for their level-headed, calm, and professional training when seeking support during medical emergencies. The education and certification of EMTS is a crucial element in this profession running efficiently for all team members.

To launch a career in immediate response care, the individual must have a high school diploma or GED. Most EMT courses take a few months to qualify for the National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians (NREMT) exam. In the United States, all EMTs are required to be licensed; however, requirements vary depending upon the state of residency. Once the exam is passed, the applicant is awarded a nationally recognized certification that guarantees their qualifications for this life-saving career.

Keep reading to learn more about how a candidate can become a certified EMT technician, educational institutions with EMT programs, certification details, and career outlook.

Step-by-Step Guide to Becoming an EMT – Emergency Medical Technician

Step 1: Graduate from high school (four years).

Graduate from high school or obtain a GED through a state-approved program (state-required coursework and time may vary). It is always helpful to begin coursework in the area of interest in high school. Taking classes in anatomy and biology would be beneficial to prepare for medical technician work in the future.

Step 2: Complete an NREMT-approved program (nine weeks or more; 120-150 hours).

Completing an EMT program through one of the numerous programs offered at institutions across the country is the second step to becoming a certified EMT.

EMT programs can also be approved depending upon the state emergency medical service’s individualized requirements. Verifying the program meets state or NREMT standards before application and completion is an essential component of the second step in fulfilling an EMT process.

Specific requirements for EMT work vary from state to state, but the foundations of an EMT program start with basic life support skills training. The introductory EMT courses take 120 to 150 hours to complete.

Certification coursework includes the following categories:

  • Evaluating patient conditions
  • Handling trauma
  • Obstructed airways clearing
  • Field equipment usage
  • Decision-making in emergencies
  • Cardiac emergencies protocols and procedures
  • Handling of hazardous materials
  • A ride-along with current EMT professionals and observations of care procedures

Selecting an institution with an EMT certification program can seem daunting to the interested party; however, evaluating options based on the state level can help determine the best fit.

North Seattle College

The North Seattle College offers an EMT pathway under the health and medical departments. Students will develop skills used throughout EMT work, and students can become proficient in multiple skill sets. Some of these sets include assessing and managing patient needs, bleeding control and spinal immobilization, splinting injuries, and emergency medication administration.

The program consists of 13 required credits, a ten-hour clinical shift that the program coordinator assigns, and a one-on-one meeting with an advisor to formulate plans after graduation from the program.

  • Location: Seattle, WA
  • Accreditation: Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities
  • Expected Time to Completion: One quarter (10 weeks)
  • Estimated Tuition: Resident ($1,313.81; includes $193.56 state tuition, $1,100.00 college self support lab fee, $5.25 UC fee, and $15.00 Medical Malpractice Insurance fee)

Davis Technical College

This college specializes in the out-of-hospital and transportation of patient care for emergency medical needs. The transport of patients in both routine and critical care is a crucial component of developing clear protocols and patient-focused care.

Students hone their skills in splinting and bandage work, use of AED machine technology, patient-assisted medication, management of airways, control of bleeding, emergency childbirth, and environmental emergencies. This program allows students to develop skills in a safe environment for later assessment requirements and emergency care.

  • Location: Kaysville, UT
  • Accreditation: The Commission of the Council on Occupational Education (COE)
  • Expected Time to Completion: 136 hours (four months)
  • Estimated Tuition: Resident ($1,200)

Broward College

Broward College provides the skill set necessary to launch into an EMT service position after a semester of in-depth study. Focusing on critical thinking, a decisive skill set, and problem-solving strategies sets the program apart from others in the field.

Topics covered in the coursework include lifting and carrying patients safely while working calmly under pressure and time constraints. Other focus areas include team environment and work skills, using one’s senses to evaluate details of a patient’s condition, and maintaining calm emotional stability while working treatment.

  • Location: Fort Lauderdale, FL
  • Accreditation: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
  • Expected Time to Completion: One semester (15 weeks)
  • Estimated Tuition: Resident ($2,000); non-resident ($5,000)

Center for Emergency Medicine Western Pennsylvania, INC.

The Center for Emergency Medicine has developed a quality program with patient care and a refined skill set for EMT practice at the heart of their educational program. With the increased demands placed upon out-of-hospital care, this program prepares EMT professionals with the skill set, knowledge, and didactic practice necessary.

The emphasis on didactic practices and materials is the foundation for the program. In the classroom, they use a variety of training manikins, equipment, and models to provide psychomotor skill practice. Technology and state-of-the-art computer software are also resource components of the program.

  • Location: Pennsylvania, PA
  • Accreditation: Awarded recognition from the American Heart Association
  • Expected Time to Completion: Four months
  • Estimated Tuition: Resident (spring or fall $650; summer $850); additional expense fee ($104 beginning 2023)

There are also various online EMT programs, which are covered in the section further below.

Step 3: Pursue certification and state licensing (timeline varies).

Certification is dependent upon the state a candidate lives in; however, on a national level, the National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians (NREMT) is the most common resource for certification. Most EMT programs require three to eleven weeks (120 hours) of instruction in the practice.

To take the national exams, candidates must have completed their coursework within the past two years. Two required exams depend on the state a candidate plans to work.

To be eligible for EMT certification through the NREMT, a candidate must have fulfilled the following:

  • Complete a state-approved EMT course or surpass the National Emergency Medical Services Education Standards for the Emergency Medical Technician
  • Pay a $98 fee for the exam
  • Pass both the NREMT exam and state-required psychomotor exam
  • Obtain a CPR and Basic Life Support certification for healthcare professionals
  • Complete the EMT exam within two years of EMT training coursework

Both NREMT exams cover specific care details of the EMT program training work. The cognitive exam is provided on a computer device at an official testing site. This exam consists of 70 to 120 questions, of which ten do not affect the final score. The candidate has two hours to complete the exam.

Eighty-five percent of the exam questions pertain to adult care, and 15 percent to pediatric care. If the candidate does not pass the test, they are allowed to retest after 15 days and receive direct feedback from the NREMT.

The EMT cognitive exam includes a broad spectrum of EMT care which includes the following list:

  • Airway, Respiration & Ventilation (18-22 percent)
  • Cardiology & Resuscitation (20-24 percent)
  • Trauma (14-18 percent)
  • Medical; Obstetrics & Gynecology (27-31 percent)
  • EMS Operations (10-14 percent)

The second exam required is the psychomotor exam provided by the NREMT. It is provided by the state EMS office of the specific training institution the candidate attended for coursework approved by the state EMS office to perform the exam.

Individualized state licensure requirements vary. Candidates seeking state licensing typically must meet the following criteria:

  • 18 years of age or older
  • Completion of high school diploma or state-approved GED program
  • Submission of application for state approval and paying required state fee
  • NREMT exams passed
  • Completion of fingerprinting and background check that involves fingerprinting process

Step 4: Renew credentials (timelines vary).

Certified EMTs must renew their NREMT certification every two years, following the completion of 40 hours of continuing education.

Online Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) Programs

There are also various hybrid or online EMT programs to consider:

Percom EMS Medical Education Consortium

Percom EMS Medical Education Consortium allows students an online option for EMT education. A required online exam for students and a passing score enable the opportunity for a three-day training focused on hands-on training and skills needed for work.

The online self-paced work provides ample room for time flexibility and exam completion on an individualized schedule.

  • Location: Abilene, TX; online
  • Accreditation: Commission of Allied Health Education Programs
  • Expected Time to Completion: Six months, self-paced
  • Estimated Tuition: Resident ($1000/$125 Payment Plan)

UCLA: Center for Prehospital Care

The UCLA Center for Prehospital Care program offers two options for the professional seeking full-time, hybrid, or online coursework. The accelerated EMT program schedule runs for four weeks on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday from 8 am to 5 pm. It allows candidates to begin treating patients quickly after receiving their education in person through the accelerated process.

The ten-week online EMT program offers a flexible schedule for students, comprising self-paced interactive assignments, online lectures, and an on-site skills lab. The online program requires students to attend one class per week at the scheduled time. The skills lab provides students with two options to select for their coursework.

  • Location: Los Angeles, CA; online
  • Accreditation: Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs
  • Expected Time to Completion: Four-week accelerated course; 10 weeks online
  • Estimated Tuition: Resident ($1,595/$342 required materials fee)

Oregon Institute of Tech

This program provides students with high-fidelity simulations and a human cadaver invasive skills lab. The program benefits from over 40 years of experience to provide students with as much 911 experience as possible. It also partners students with a 24-hour experience in metropolitan life support ambulance and fire crews for quick response work.

The program blends online lessons, lectures, quizzes, and resources. It is a twelve-credit course that prepares candidates to take the NREMT and Oregon State EMT exams.

  • Location: Klamath Falls, Oregon
  • Accreditation: Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities; Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Program
  • Expected Time to Completion: Two-quarter terms (nine to 11 weeks)
  • Estimated Tuition: $11,622 Klamath Falls location; $9,986 Portland-Metro location (resident tuition)

Austin Online EMT

Austin Online EMT courses are offered throughout the year during January, May, and September. There is a requirement to meet in person for skills training between December 9-15, and the final exam is provided in person on campus. Due to this and skills training, it is necessary to stay within the Round Rock and Austin area for activities, clinical rotations, and testing for the course’s last two-and-a-half weeks.

Initially formed for Texas residents, the program does work for outside residents. Once the certification is issued, it is transferrable for EMT certification in another state.

  • Location: Roundrock, TX
  • Accreditation: Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs
  • Expected Time to Completion: Six to 12 months
  • Estimated Tuition: $13,210 (resident)

EMT Program Curriculum

EMT training courses cover the essential basics of life-saving skills and critical thinking sets. EMT work aims to stabilize a patient until their journey through pre-hospital care has met a successful end with the transportation to a healthcare facility.

EMT preparatory work does not teach every medical procedure, illness, or injury, nor should it. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the United States Department of Transportation wrote the national EMT-Basic education curriculum. A handful of EMTs, nurses, physicians, and paramedics helped form the standard curriculum with personnel from the International Association of Fire Chiefs, the American College of Emergency Physicians, and the American Heart Association. This curriculum is available online in pdf form under EMT-Basic National Standard Curriculum.

Some of the topics covered in this course include:

  • The human body
  • Bleeding and shock
  • Respiratory emergencies
  • Obstetrics
  • Introduction to Emergency Medical Care
  • Moving and lifting patients
  • Ambulance operations
  • Respiratory emergencies

The list gives a general outline of the topics covered in the EMT-Basic National Standard Curriculum. Among the courses is a list of categories that organize the content into the following:

  • Preparatory
  • Airway
  • Patient assessment
  • Trauma
  • Medical
  • Operations
  • Infants and children

EMT programs are relatively short in time length compared to other medical coursework. There is no specialization for the profession when on the EMT-basic track; however, if students excel and desire to continue their medical path, they could continue to the paramedic track.

EMT Career Outlook & Salary

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (2022), job openings for EMTs are expected to grow 7 percent between 2021 to 2031. This job growth and demand is faster than the average for that time period (5 percent).

Finally, the 161,400 EMTs around the U.S. earned an average annual salary of $36,690 (BLS May 2021). They had the following percentiles:

  • 10th percentile: $23,620
  • 25th percentile: $28,920
  • 50th percentile (median): $35,470
  • 75th percentile: $37,660
  • 90th percentile: $47,580

Helpful Resources For EMTs

There are many informative resources available online to support prospective students. Located below is a list of helpful links for EMTs’ future professionals.

Rachel A. Becker
Rachel A. Becker Writer

Rachel Becker is a freelance writer who enjoys life in the PNW. She holds a master's degree in education and taught in elementary classrooms for twelve years. When she is not running around after two toddlers, she makes time for daily movement, running two blogs, and reading.