5 Steps to Become a Paramedic

So You Want to Be a Paramedic?

paramedics taking patient to helicopter
There are plenty of things that make a paramedic pucker up. Anthony Boccaccio/Getty Images

Paramedics take care of patients in dynamic, chaotic and sometimes even dangerous environments. They must be able to react well under stress.

But being a paramedic is not all about blood, guts and glory. It's about compassion and caring as you move a patient from one place to another. You'll save a few lives, but you'll make an impression on many more.

What You Need

  • Perseverance
  • Dedication
  • From $1,000 - 15,000 depending on where you live
  • A sense of humor
  • An understanding family
  • A stethoscope

There are several levels of emergency medical service (EMS) training. Although each state is different, the following are the most common 5 steps to becoming a paramedic.

Step 1: Become an Emergency Medical Technician

paramedics treating a patient in an ambulance.
Paramedics have to start as emergency medical technicians (EMT's).

Before you become a paramedic, you will have to become an emergency medical technician (EMT). Some states use different terminology​—until circa 2010 the term en vogue nationally was EMT-Basic—but they are all generally the same.

Don't let the​ fact that it's the first step fool you, EMT's learn critical skills to intervene in life-threatening emergencies.

Look for EMT training at your local community college, hospital or ambulance service.

Do not enroll in a couch-to-paramedic program. These programs put students through EMT training and then immediately to a class of paramedic students with no experience in the field. Paramedic training is too difficult to complete it cold. You might pull it off, but you'll struggle for a very long time.

After you get your EMT certification, you need to...

Step 2: Get a Job

EMT treating a patient in the back of an ambulance
emergency medical technicians can handle all sorts of patients.

EMT's who work for at least a year on an ambulance are better prepared for paramedic training. There are situations that cannot be adequately described and must be experienced. The best time to learn the emergency medical system is prior to being responsible for all aspects of each patient contact.

EMT's are certified to attend patients in the backs of ambulances. In many states, a special driver's license is also required. Check with your state's department of motor vehicles.

Step 3: Take Preparatory Classes

anatomy classroom
Every paramedic needs to at least take anatomy and physiology. John Humble / Getty Images

Different states require different amounts of training to become a paramedic. Potential paramedic students need to at least complete anatomy & physiology, electrocardiography (ECG), algebra and at least a 10th grade reading comprehension.

In most states, paramedic training is considered vocational, with little opportunity to complete two- or four-year degrees. However, there are states—such as Washington—that require a two-year degree as the minimum for paramedic education.

Step 4: Enroll in a Good Quality Paramedic Program

paramedics in ambulance
A quality paramedic program will hold students accountable and train in realistic situations.

Ask questions and do your homework before you sign up. Find out about a paramedic program's reputation among the other paramedics in the system. Cost is a factor, but there is no true relationship between price and quality for a paramedic class.

Seek Accountability

Accountability, while scary for struggling students, is necessary to maintain the quality of the paramedics in the system. Seek out a program that holds its students accountable. Getting your training through a program that lets everyone pass might get you the license, but not a job.

Also, in some cases the classroom portion of the training is not connected to the practical portion. That means if your school did not prepare you properly, you might pay all that money for training and not be able to get your license anyway.


two graduates hugging
Graduation is just the beginning. peopleimages.com / Getty Images


Now that you are an EMT-Paramedic, go forth and uphold the high standards that those who came before you have established.

You have to take and pass the licensure exam. What that looks like is different in many states. The most common exam is the one provided by the National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians.

Important point of clarification: a newly graduated paramedic is just that--newly graduated. Even if you've worked for years as an EMT (kudos if you did, by the way) you will quickly discover that you now see the world in an entirely different light.

Be humble and do not ignore your EMT partners. They might not understand what's going on in your head right now, but they have not lost their ability to see the situations clearly from their own points of view. They are valuable team members and just might save your bacon.

Continue Reading