Becoming a Paramedic: Getting Started

A paramedic is not the only health worker who rides an ambulance, but is often the most highly trained, and the one who is responsible for the most difficult tasks. Paramedics do some of the same things that highly educated medical professionals do. They are working under medical direction, but they are also working under pressure. If you want to help people in crisis but don't want to go through medical school, this may be the career for you.

Begin by learning as much as you can about the profession. If you are lucky, you may have the opportunity to virtually job shadow through an organization like AHEC.

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If you want to help people in crisis but don't want to go through medical school, this may be the career for you.

Attaining the Foundational Skills

You will need the physical abilities outlined in the functional job analysis National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. You will need good coordination. You may need to life more than 125 pounds.

You will first achieve certification as an Emergency Medical Technician, or EMT. You may complete an =EMT program and then spend some time in the field. You may have the option of enrolling in a single program and earning EMT certification en route to paramedic certification. The entrance requirements will likely be higher. The school may require you to take aptitude or placement tests: anything from the ACT to the COMPASS. Paramedics use fairly complex mathematics. They are also well versed in anatomy and physiology. Paramedic programs not only cover more advanced physical procedures than EMT programs, they also require a stronger science foundation.

The program may rely on references, interviews, and even essays to determine if you are a good match.

Attaining Education

Programs must be accredited by CAAHEP or seeking accreditation. Some states set additional educational requirements. You may still find yourself with many options. All accredited programs should provide instruction, clinical experience, and field experience at a generally accepted national standard. You can expect to demonstrate key skills a number of times before using them in the field.

Programs must be accredited by CAAHEP or seeking accreditation.

However, there are key differences between programs. One difference is pacing. EMS programs are often measured in hours. When you figure in study time, a paramedic program is typically a much bigger time commitment than the 1,000 to 1,300 hours of instruction and in-facility practice.

You may get to choose between degree and non-degree tracks. Few states currently mandate an associate's degree. In the health professions in general, though, knowledge is increasing -- and so are educational standards. Paramedic students often earn a degree in conjunction with their credentials. An associate's degree programs include some general education coursework. Psychology is a common requirement, as is composition or business writing. Some programs require you to take an additional class in communications. Longer degree programs may include more science coursework. Bachelor's level programs offer preparation for leadership roles as well as direct service.

Earning Your Credentials

Most states use examinations developed by the National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians (NREMT). In some states, you can take the practical examination before your field internship. In others, you must finish the entire program before testing. In all cases, you will need to be finished with the program before you take the computer-based cognitive exam. There are study resources available. You can begin your search on the NREMT website.

Expect several steps to the assessment and application process EMS jurisdictions have slightly different protocols. You may have a protocol examination to pass. However, this step typically takes place later.

Building Your Career

Do your research when considering where to apply. One short-term: the length of the shift. 24 hour shifts are still common. Often this means that you are being paid for being on call: not a drive away, but right there at the station. You may get in a good sleep -- but this is an area where there are no guarantees. Some centers are too busy. Many employers, fortunately, do offer eight or twelve hour shifts.

Your career can take various directions in the long-term. Two potential areas of specialty are critical care transport and community paramedicine. You can pursue further education, as necessary, to take on the role that you want.