What Can a Paramedic Do?

Professional paramedic
Paramedics have a strong scope of practice. Mike Powell/Stone/Getty Images


What Can a Paramedic Do?

This isn't a question I get from readers as much as from people on the street. When I walk into a business wearing a jumpsuit with PARAMEDIC plastered across my back, folks get curious.


Paramedics in most states have pretty similar scopes of practice. Generally, they can:

What exactly a paramedic can do varies from country to country, state to state and even from county to county. The term paramedic refers to several levels of training.

It's important to figure out if we're talking about paramedics, or if we really are using a catch-all term relating to all emergency medical services personnel. Paramedics in the United States are just one type of emergency medical technician (EMT). Two other levels of EMT exist: EMT-Basic and EMT-Intermediate.

To better understand the distinction, read The Difference Between an EMT and a Paramedic.

Paramedics practice what is known as advanced life support (ALS). As impressive as it sounds to be the advanced practitioner, it's often not the most important level. In first aid, the more basic the training, the more significant the skill.

For example, CPR is the most basic of all medical courses, but it is only used when the heart stops - arguably the worst medical emergency possible.

The benefits of paramedics come after the basic life-saving has already happened. In fact, when a paramedic saves a life, there is a good chance it was by using basic skills rather than ALS. Advanced care helps victims stay alive once the good application of basic skills has pulled them from the brink of death (OK, it's a little melodramatic, but it's true).

Think of emergency medical care as a pyramid: the most important and basic skills save the most people. The higher you go up the pyramid in advanced techniques, the fewer the patients you are able to save with those skills. It's not that the treatments aren't beneficial, just that the number of patients on which you can practice those skills diminishes.

Besides life-saving procedures, paramedics also have a cache of skills and medications that can make patients more comfortable. In a more indirect way, those procedures can affect a patient's long-term survival. Anti-emetics can help alleviate a patient's vomiting, leaving him or her less likely to choke on emesis (vomit) or to become dehydrated.

The primary focus of paramedics began with cardiac life support and remains a significant portion of their training and often of their patient populations. Overall, paramedics in North America and other industrialized societies are extremely helpful in patients with disease conditions unrelated to traumatic injury. In these medical patients, the training and tools available to paramedics are invaluable in helping to diagnose and treat (sometimes definitively) their conditions.

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