EMT and Paramedic Jobs

Where Can EMTs and Paramedics Work and How Much Do They Make?

EMTs loading patient into ambulance
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There are some obvious places where you might find a paramedic: ambulances and fire engines are the first things that come to mind. However, paramedics are more versatile than you might think. There were 226,500 jobs available for EMTs and paramedics in 2010, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). EMT and paramedic job outlook is expected to grow 33% through 2020, which is quite a bit faster than the average of 14% for all jobs.

EMT vs Paramedic: What's the Difference?

There are multiple levels of education in emergency medical services. The most common are emergency medical technician (EMT), Advanced EMT (AEMT), and paramedic. According to BLS, the median income of EMTs and paramedics was $30,360 in May 2010. However, there's a wide range of salaries between EMTs and paramedics. Indeed.com lists the average salary for EMT as $35,000 and the average for paramedic as $41,000.

There are more EMTs than paramedics. It takes less time to become an EMT -- usually about one full-time college quarter. Most paramedic programs build on the EMT training and take anywhere from 1 to 2 years of full-time college to complete. Most paramedics receive a vocational certificate rather than a degree, but there are some degree programs available.

If becoming a paramedic interests you, here are a few employment options you probably expected and a few places you might not have considered.

Ambulance Service

Let's get the most obvious out of the way first. Paramedics are meant to be on ambulances. Simply put, they're trained for it. All of the licenses and certifications listed above assume the licensee will treat and transport patients on an ambulance. According to BLS, 48% of all EMTs and paramedics are employed in the ambulance service.

Here's where the EMTs are most likely to outnumber the paramedics. In most ambulances around the country, there are either two EMTs or an EMT working with a paramedic. Some types of critical care transport units have 2 EMTs working with one paramedic on a team of 3 people. It's possible to see two paramedics in the same ambulance but as we've seen, paramedics are more expensive than EMTs. To save money, ambulance services are likely to staff what's known as one-on-one or 50/50, an EMT and a paramedic.

Air Ambulances

Patients aren't just transported on the ground. Helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft are also used to get medical patients from one place to another. Most helicopters are staffed with a paramedic and a nurse or doctor. Paramedics bring training and work experience from an environment that nurses don't typically get in the hospital setting. Nurses, on the other hand, have more experience with medication drips and continuous care of their patients for long periods. It's a good combination in an aircraft environment.

Helicopters are used for scene responses, picking up major accidents victims for example. They can also be used in interfacility transports of delicate or critical patients when time is of the essence. Fixed-wing aircraft are used to transport mostly stable patients over long distances, sometimes from one country to another.

An interesting note about flight paramedic pay: Being on a helicopter is sexy. It's a job that many paramedics strive for and air ambulance services often have applicants beating at the doors. Consequently, the pay isn't as good as you might expect.

Fire Service

Firefighters get to do all sorts of cool things, but by far the most common thing they do in almost every part of the country is respond to medical emergencies. In many places around the US, firefighters are municipal employees with some sort of retirement benefits. That's a big draw within the public safety world.

Fire service jobs have become increasingly competitive, especially in states where benefit packages are the most lucrative. Firefighters in almost all metropolitan fire departments have to at least be certified as an EMT. In many cases, they have to be paramedics. Indeed.com lists salaries for firefighters and paramedics as pretty competitive, but the differences in benefit packages usually tilt the scales heavily toward the fire service.

Military Medics

Every branch of the service has some version of a combat medic. In every branch, a medic or corpsman trained for combat will be at least licensed as an EMT as part of his or her training. In some military jobs, the training will be to AEMT or paramedic level.

Military salaries are based on rank, not specifically on the job. Most military medics are E3 or above.

Tactical EMS

Recently, a new type of paramedic has become very popular across the country. Tactical EMS (TEMS) is a subspecialty of paramedic and EMT that works with SWAT teams. TEMS medics train with SWAT teams and deploy with them in a very similar way to that of a military combat medic. TEMS medics can be armed or not, depending on their role and whether or not they have peace officer status.

In some areas of the country, TEMS medics are SWAT officers cross-trained as paramedics or EMTs and in other areas they are ambulance EMTs or paramedics assigned to assist with SWAT deployments. Right now there are very few full-time SWAT team members in the country, let alone full-time TEMS medics. However, the need for this type of EMS is growing and I expect to see more full-time TEMS medics.

Park Ranger/Search and Rescue

Search and rescue personnel are required to be at least EMT certified in almost every area. Park Rangers are almost always EMTs as well.

There are two types of search and rescue: urban and wilderness. Wilderness search and rescue (SAR) is the most common -- these teams are often led by Park Rangers. Urban search and rescue teams (USAR) are often specialty groups developed through cooperation with fire departments and ambulance services. There are 25 federally funded USAR task forces through FEMA.

Overseas Paramedics

There are a number of jobs for paramedics in the Middle East and other parts of the world. The pay for these jobs varies widely, but there are a number of benefits to working in another country, the most enticing is probably getting paid tax-free. There are quite a few rules to getting the tax-free salary, including how long you are allowed to be in the US during the year, but for some folks, it's definitely worth it.

Industrial Safety

This is the biggest catch-all group of paramedics and EMT jobs. Industrial safety or industrial nursing jobs can be found on oil rigs, factories, canneries, mines and other industrial settings. Paramedics in positions like these often handle all sorts of minor to major medical emergencies, sometimes in very remote locations. Salaries for industrial safety jobs are all over the place but expect it to be much higher if the work is dangerous and the location is remote.

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