So, you’re thinking about a career as an emergency medical technician (EMT).

Well, that’s awesome!

You are in good company. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the emergency medical technician and paramedic workforce is currently made up of 248,000 people in the United States.

And don’t worry, there is plenty of room for you to find a steady job. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, over 37,400 new EMT and paramedic jobs are expected in the next few years.

Let us cover the initial steps on this exciting career path together so you can get a better understanding of what you’re getting into.

We are talking here about your career for possibly the next 10 years, at the very least, and even the rest of your life. That is exciting and nerve-racking at the same time.

Let’s get to it then.

How do you become an emergency medical technician or a paramedic?

Emergency medical technicians and paramedics typically complete a postsecondary educational program. All states require EMTs and paramedics to be licensed; requirements vary by state.

For more information, read How to Become an EMT and Paramedic.

What type of schooling do EMTs and paramedics need?

Both a high school diploma or equivalent and cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) certification are typically required for entry into postsecondary educational programs in emergency medical technology. Most of these programs are nondegree award programs that can be completed in less than 1 year; others last up to 2 years. Paramedics, however, may need an associate’s degree. Programs in emergency medical technology are offered by technical institutes, community colleges, universities, and facilities that specialize in emergency care training. Some states have EMR positions that do not require national certification. These positions typically require state certification.

The Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs offers a list of accredited programs for EMTs and paramedics, by state.

Programs at the EMT level include instruction in assessing patients’ conditions, dealing with trauma and cardiac emergencies, clearing obstructed airways, using field equipment, and handling emergencies. Formal courses include about 150 hours of specialized instruction, and some instruction may take place in a hospital or ambulance setting.

Programs at the Advanced EMT level typically require about 400 hours of instruction. At this level, candidates learn EMT-level skills as well as more advanced ones, such as using complex airway devices, intravenous fluids, and some medications.

Paramedics have the most advanced level of education. To enter specific paramedical training programs, they must already be EMT certified. Community colleges and universities may offer these programs, which require about 1,200 hours of instruction and may lead to an associate’s or bachelor’s degree. Paramedics’ broader scope of practice may include stitching wounds or administering intravenous medications.

High school students interested in becoming EMTs or paramedics should take courses in anatomy and physiology and consider becoming certified in CPR.

What are the types of certifications and requirements needed to become an EMT?

The National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians (NREMT) certifies EMTs and paramedics at the national level. All levels of NREMT certification require completing a certified education program and passing the national exam. The national exam has both written and practical parts. Some states have first-level state certifications that do not require national certification.

All states require EMTs and paramedics to be licensed; requirements vary by state. In most states, an individual who has NREMT certification qualifies for licensure; in others, passing an equivalent state exam is required. Usually, an applicant must be over the age of 18. Many states require background checks and may not give a license to an applicant who has a criminal history.

Although some emergency medical services hire separate drivers, most EMTs and paramedics take a course requiring about 8 hours of instruction before they can drive an ambulance.

How long does it take to become an EMT?

  • High School Diploma / Equivalent AND CPR Certification: both a high school diploma or equivalent and cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) certification are typically required for entry into postsecondary educational programs in emergency medical technology.
  • Postsecondary EMT Basic Training (EMT-B): 6 Months – 2 Years depending on the institution.
  • Pass Exam and Become Certified: You’ll need 2 hours to complete the EMT exam.
  • Continuing Education: The National Component requires EMTs to complete 20 hours of approved continuing education.

How much does it cost to become an EMT?

  • According to, schooling fees are:
    • Median In-state Public Tuition: $3,360
    • Median Out-of-state Private Tuition: $24,320
  • EMT Cognitive Exam: $80.00

What is the EMT Test?

The National Registry Emergency Medical Technician cognitive exam is a computer adaptive test (CAT) consisting of 70-120 multiple choice questions that cover the entire spectrum of EMS care (see categories below). This exam makes sure you have the knowledge and skills needed to be an EMT.

How many questions are on the EMT cognitive exam?

70-120 questions.

What are the categories on the EMT cognitive exam?

These are the categories on the EMT exam, followed by the percentage of the exam these categories take up:

  • Airway, Respiration & Ventilation – 18%-22%
  • Cardiology & Resuscitation – 20%-24%
  • Trauma – 14%-18%
  • Medical, Obstetrics, & Gynecology – 27%-31%
  • EMS Operations – 10%-14%

How long does the EMT test typically last?

You will have 2 hours to complete the EMS cognitive exam.

What is the passing grade needed for the EMT test?

In order to pass the exam, candidates must meet a standard level of competency. The passing standard is defined by the ability to provide safe and effective entry-level emergency medical care.

How many times can you take the EMT test?

After completing your EMS education program, you get three (3) attempts to pass the EMT cognitive exam. If you fail, you can apply to re-take the exam fifteen (15) days from your last test attempt.