Emergency 911 Dispatcher Career Overview

Emergency dispatcher at work
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Emergency dispatchers, also referred to as 911 operators, work out of a call center, answering phone calls from citizens in need of assistance from police, fire, or ambulance service. Dispatchers are trained to gather information from the caller, remain calm, and then send the appropriate type of assistance, and volume of units, to the caller's location, based on the information from the caller. For example, callers may be victims of a crime, an accident, or health event such as a heart attack or seizure.

If you are seeking a healthcare career that enables you to help people in need, without directly being on the scene or directly interacting with patients, a career as an emergency dispatcher may be a great option for you. If you can't handle the sight of blood, but you are comfortable talking people through traumatic situations and helping them survive until help arrives, you might want to consider becoming an emergency dispatcher.

Education Required for Emergency Dispatchers

One of the great things about a career as an emergency dispatcher is that it doesn't require a college degree. Only a high school diploma or a GED is required to be qualified to apply for a job as an emergency 911 dispatcher. Much of the training is provided on the job. Training would include some technical training to operate the call system, computer, and learn the terminology. Also first aid, CPR, and other medical knowledge is needed in case the dispatcher needs to coach someone through these processes while they are waiting for professional medical assistance.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, some employers may prefer to hire dispatchers who have some college coursework in criminology, communications, or computer science.

Skill Requirements for Emergency Dispatchers

Emergency dispatchers must be able to think and act quickly under pressure. They must be able to communicate very effectively, including listening and gathering information, as well as verbalizing information.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, multi-tasking and problem-solving skills are also important for dispatchers to be most effective at their jobs.

Certifications and Licensing for Dispatchers

Required certifications vary by state and by employer. Also, some employers may require dispatchers to complete continuing education to keep certifications active.

Pay and Work Hours for Emergency 911 Dispatchers

According to the BLS, the average annual salary for dispatchers is $35,370, which equates to about $17.00 per hour.

Most dispatchers work 12-hour shifts, but some work 24-hour shifts. Like many healthcare careers, due to the nature of the work, dispatchers often have to work weekends and overnight shifts, as emergency services are needed around the clock.

Workforce and Job Outlook for Emergency Dispatchers

Job growth for emergency dispatchers is expected to be average, which is about 12% growth through 2020. This amount equates to about 11,700 new jobs added from 2010-2020 and will bring the total number of employed dispatchers to over 111,000 nationwide.

The Good, the Bad, the Ugly of Emergency Dispatch Careers

The good thing about emergency dispatcher careers is the ability to impact the lives of people in need even without having to be on site with them.

Another plus is the fact that there is a relatively low barrier of entry to this career, in that there is no degree required. The bad thing about emergency dispatch careers is the average projected growth, which is not horrible, but many healthcare careers are growing faster than average. The "ugly" about emergency dispatch careers is the level of stress that dispatchers experience. Studies have shown that even though dispatchers are not on site of the emergency, they experience post-traumatic stress as a result of their indirect experience.

If dispatcher does not sound like the best career for you, you may want to explore other careers in emergency services, or other types of medical jobs altogether.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012-13 Edition, Police, Fire, and Ambulance Dispatchers, on the Internet at http://www.bls.gov/ooh/office-and-administrative-support/police-fire-and-ambulance-dispatchers.htm (visited March 31, 2012).

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