Emergency Medical Technicians

paramedic next to an ambulance
Does working on an ambulance make one an ambulance driver?. Mark Gibson/Getty Images

Definition: A certified healthcare provider who is trained to treat sick and injured patients and transport them via ambulance.

Overview of an EMT

An emergency medical technician (EMT) provides basic life support and ambulance transportation to patients who are sick or injured in both emergency and non-emergency situations. It is the most common certification for ambulance attendants in the United States.

Emergency medical technicians may work in the emergency department, public gatherings and factories, but most importantly the certification is aimed at providing care in an ambulance.

EMT's respond to emergencies and also transport medical patients between facilities in an ambulance. They can work for public or private agencies. In most fire departments around the country, firefighters are required to be certified emergency medical technicians.

History of EMT's

Ambulances have been around since the 11th century in Europe. The first U.S. based ambulance service started in Cincinnati, Ohio in 1865. Sometimes, a doctor or an intern would ride in the ambulance to provide medical care to patients. In many cases, ambulance attendants had no training at all. Army ambulances during World War II had drivers, but the medics were based with the combat units. Even today, folks working on ambulances are often--incorrectly--referred to as ambulance drivers.

Emergency medical technicians were developed in the late 1960's. The impetus for emergency medical technicians and all of emergency medical services (EMS) came from a report to President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1966. The report, entitled Accidental Death and Disability: The Neglected Disease of Modern Society basically said that soldiers on the battlefields of Korea were safer than citizens on the roads of the U.S.

Scope of Practice

The EMT scope of practice is focused heavily on injured patients. In the beginning, EMT's were all about vehicle accidents. Over the years, the types of patients that EMT's are expected to treat have grown to include medical conditions like diabetes and asthma. Their training has grown as well.

EMT skills include immobilization and splinting, bandaging, administering oxygen, cardiopulmonary resuscitation, defibrillation, extrication, administering medications and airway management. They work under the license of a physician and receive orders through online or offline medical control, which has nothing to do with computers. Online medical control refers to orders that come directly from a physician, over the phone, radio or face-to-face. Offline medical control refers to orders that are written and the EMT follows them based on patient condition (also known as standing orders).

Education and Training

EMT education is usually a minimum of 120 hours split between the classroom, a hospital emergency department and an ambulance.

The majority of their education is in the classroom. In many states, EMT's can receive a non-degree college certificate. There are a few programs that include an associate's degree.

Certification as an EMT is a prerequisite for paramedic training. In some areas, not only does a paramedic candidate have to be certified as an emergency medical technician, he or she might also need a minimum amount of work experience as an EMT to qualify for paramedic school.

Also Known As

EMT, EMT-Basic, EMT-B, EMT-1. EMT and paramedic are often mistaken as the same thing.

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