What You Need to Know About Becoming a Paramedic

Written by Kate Lopaze

As a general rule, a paramedic is not someone you want to see—if they show up, that means something has likely gone very wrong. But as emergency first responders, they’re definitely the people you want on call for when things do go wrong. Paramedics are often the first on the scene of an accident, illness, or crisis. They perform immediate life-saving measures, if necessary, and stabilize patients en route to a hospital or doctor’s office for further diagnosis and treatment.

The Day-to-Day

Licensed paramedics, who are among the most skilled emergency responders, do not work in a 9-to-5 setting. Rather, they work in shifts around the clock, and are often on call at all hours, including weekends and holidays. The “office” may be a dispatch center or on the road in an ambulance, traveling to and from emergency calls. Paramedics provide emergency medical care and rescue services based on incoming calls or requests and can be employed by private ambulance companies, fire departments, hospitals, or other rescue agencies.

Also, know that paramedics are not interchangeable with Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs). They go above and beyond first aid and basic patient transport, having the extra training and licensing that allows them to perform advanced medical intervention if necessary—intubating patients so they can breathe, inserting IV lines, and administering medications.

Becoming a paramedic is definitely not for the faint of heart. Even though the stereotypical “blood and guts” aspect is only a small part of what paramedics do (which also includes helping chronically ill patients in addition to accident victims or those with sudden or acute sickness), paramedics are often called to dangerous and active rescue scenes. Stress and on-the-job injuries can result from the hectic life of a paramedic, so potential candidates should be aware of the risks.

For more on the daily life of a paramedic, read about it in this Lifehacker interview with Paramedic Andy Orin or watch this video interview with Paramedic Kelly Grayson.

The Requirements

Paramedics need to complete a postsecondary degree program, pass an exam, and apply for a license. The paramedic course of study usually takes 1,200 to 1,800 hours to complete. And although every state requires paramedics to be licensed, each state may have different requirements, so be sure to check out your own state’s regulations.

The Skills

Paramedics receive training in a number of areas, including:

  • CPR and first aid
  • Patient airway treatment and management
  • Pharmacology (medications)
  • Traumatic injury management
  • Inserting IV lines
  • Basic patient medical care
  • Managing acute conditions (such as diabetic shock, strokes, or heart attacks)
  • General clinical training

The Pay

Per the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), paramedics earn a median salary of $31,700.

The Outlook

There’s no shortage of emergencies, unfortunately, so the demand for these highly skilled, essential first responders will continue to grow. The BLS expects that the demand will expand at least 24% by 2024, significantly faster than most other jobs and industries.

The life of a paramedic is one of both hectic activity (when things are busy) and anticipation (down time when no calls are coming in). It’s an extremely demanding, stressful, and challenging field, to be sure—but if you have a fondness for adrenaline and the ability to stay icy cool under the hottest pressure, then it just might be the right Allied Health career for you to consider.

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About the author

Kate Lopaze

Kate Lopaze is a writer, editor, and digital publishing professional based in New York City. A graduate of the University of Connecticut and Emerson College with degrees in English and publishing, she is passionate about books, baseball, and pop culture (though not necessarily in that order), and lives in Brooklyn with her dog.