Steps to Obtain an EMT Certification

An emergency medical technician (EMT) is one of the first emergency service responders at the scene of an accident, fire, crime, or other medical emergency situation. EMTs assess a patient’s condition and provide pre-hospital medical care to the sick or injured directly at the location of an accident or illness, stabilizing them physically and preparing them for transport to a medical facility. EMTs take specialized training courses and receive additional qualifying on-the-job practical and clinical experience.

There are several steps required to obtain an EMT certification. EMT certifications are obtained in progression from EMT, to Advanced EMT and finally, Paramedic. While you cannot skip any one level, by researching the responsibilities associated with each one, you will know how long it will take for you to reach your ultimate EMT certification goal.

You will also want to research the various EMT training courses and their availability in your area. Training is available at a number of facilities, including career or vocational schools, community colleges, and some universities. The emergency medical services (EMS) agency in your area can help you locate a training facility.

Before applying to take an EMT certification course, make sure you understand and have fulfilled all program prerequisites. You will need your high school diploma or equivalent. Many courses require you to have taken a class or received certification in Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) and Basic Life Support. These courses are available through the American Red Cross and the American Heart Association , respectively.

Once you have completed your EMT training course, the next step toward obtaining certification is to take the EMT certification test. The National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians (NREMT) offers the written and practical tests for EMT certification that are aligned with national, standard guidelines for all EMTs. You must take and successfully pass the NREMT examination within 24 months of completion of your EMT training in ord
er to receive certification.

The next step to obtaining EMT certification and being able to practice in your state is to obtain state licensure. Some states may have additional requirements for certification, so you will need to determine if your NREMT certification is sufficient for licensure or if you will need to take additional testing. Once you have obtained your state license to practice, follow up regularly with additional training and continuing education to meet the biennial recertification requirements that allow you to maintain your hard-earned EMT certification.

Assess Goals and Plan for Them


Whether you are considering starting a new career or have been working professionally for several years, it is important to regularly assess your career goals and update them with new or revised plans. In general, you should have both short- and long-term career goals, as well as educational, training, and occupational goals that will help you meet your career objectives. Individuals in the emergency medical services (EMS) professions, specifically emergency medical technicians (EMTs), are no different; they, too, should assess their career objectives and plan accordingly.

Career goals depend on a variety of factors, such as an individual’s level of education, his or her willingness to pursue continuing education, financial resources, and current level of job satisfaction. Because there are numerous options available to individuals who are either in or thinking about entering the EMS profession, each of these factors becomes a consideration when outlining overall career goals.

A person’s educational background is a primary factor in determining the job that person will pursue. We typically obtain a formal or post-secondary education with the end objective of applying what we have learned to gainful employment. While many people remain in similar jobs their entire careers, many others are motivated to continue learning to further develop themselves both personally and professionally. Continued learning can be in the form of certifications or an advanced degree. This additional education can put you on the path to promotion or a new career entirely.

Examine the progression of the EMT, for example. A person can start with some very basic training right out of high school and, assuming he/she has qualified by passing the National Registry of Emergency Medical Technician’s examinations and obtained state-level licensure, can obtain a job as a qualified EMT. This first step is good for anyone who wishes to enter the workforce without spending a lot of time or money to get started on his or her career path. To move up from EMT to Advanced EMT, however, the person must take additional training courses to obtain certification in medical areas of ever-increasing complexity and responsibility. To become a paramedic, the highest level of EMT certification, the EMT must dedicate even more time in order to obtain a two-year Associate’s degree and learn all the advanced EMS procedures. All EMTs also need to factor the state and national recertification requirements into their career timelines, as recertification is necessary every two years just to maintain their existing EMT certification.

Some individuals are interested in instructing or managing an EMS department. In addition to obtaining the necessary EMT certification or Associate’s degree, they will need further education in the form of a four-year Bachelor’s degree to demonstrate they have the required education and experience for teaching EMS courses or running an EMS organization. Other people aspire to careers that are not directly EMT- related but that require EMT certification as one of the necessary job skills. Examples of these careers include jobs in security or in the offshore oil and/or gas industries. These individuals need to understand all the other education and job experience requirements and plan to fulfill those in addition to their EMT certifications.

No matter what your current employment status, you should take the time to assess and outline your goals for the future. List what you need to accomplish in order to reach each step, including the time it will take to complete each one. By having a concrete plan and following it, you can be certain you will reach all the objectives you have mapped out in your timeline.

Decide How Much Time You Are Willing To Devote

Anyone who is passionate about their chosen profession is willing to spend the time needed to learn how to perform their job well. This can include formal or post-secondary education, on-the-job training, continuing education, training seminars, or nights at home poring over coursework on the computer. The education does not end, however, when the individual obtains the job of their dreams. In order to stay current on industry news and trends or knowledgeable about the latest advances in the job or the equipment needed to do the job, additional time must be devoted to reading and/or studying all the latest information.

Those who work in the emergency medical services (EMS) field, specifically emergency medical technicians (EMTs), are passionate about their chosen profession because they are rewarded with the satisfaction of knowing they provide life-saving emergency medical treatment. While the initial time commitment to become an EMT is relatively short, those who wish to go on to the Advanced EMT or Paramedic level must dedicate much more time to reach those more advanced levels.

The coursework for EMT can be completed in a matter of three to twelve weeks depending upon whether the student takes classes on an accelerated basis, on weeknights, or on weekends. Once this coursework is completed, the student must apply for and pass the practical and written examinations the National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians (NREMT) administers and complete any other state-required coursework or examinations.

For the next two levels, Advanced EMT and Paramedic, more extensive training is required. This training includes both classroom and clinical work. Clinical work involves working in an approved hospital emergency room as well as performing ambulance “ride alongs.” In both cases the EMT is assigned a preceptor who will be responsible for ensuring the EMT performs the necessary duties of the job. To become a paramedic, the EMT must devote the most time to work and studies. Paramedics obtain an Associate’s degree when they have completed the necessary coursework, which is typically after two years. These students will take courses in anatomy, physiology, and perhaps some courses in general education. As with the EMR, those seeking to become an EMT, Advanced EMT or Paramedic must also apply for and pass their respective NREMT examinations.

Another important time investment that EMTs make at all five levels is the time devoted to obtaining recertification of their existing EMT level. Not only do EMTs invest time upfront to receive their initial EMT certification and state licensure, because they are required to recertify every two years, they are on a continual cycle of studying and obtaining new certifications. This is a significant time investment on their part.

Urban sprawl, changes in the healthcare system, and an aging population have all contributed to an increased demand for emergency ambulance services. Volunteer EMTs are simply not able to meet those demands as they have other work and family priorities to which they must attend. This necessitates paid EMTs having to handle the increased call volumes.

In addition to the recertification time obligations, motivated EMTs will join professional associations, participate in community events to promote their services, and attend meetings and seminars that are relevant to their job. EMTs devote their time in support of their own job to network, to learn about EMTs in other locations, and to stay on top of the latest EMT industry developments and advances. Aspiring EMTs should be fully aware of the time they will need to devote to their careers in order to be able to continue practicing once they have made the initial time investment to obtain their certification.

Choose the Right Program for You

If only we had a crystal ball in order to see if our chosen careers will truly be the right fit for us one, two, or ten years down the road. Alas, we do not. The job we think we would like to have when we are in high school or college may end up being a completely wrong choice for us. For this reason some individuals are sufficiently motivated to take the leap and change careers. Others research potential careers and talk with others who are currently performing that job to see if they enjoy what they do. For anyone considering becoming an emergency medical technician (EMT), there is plenty of research you can do to determine if this is the right job for you.

You can start by asking yourself the following questions. Your answers will help you decide if you should pursue the path of obtaining an EMT certification.

  • Do you like helping others? Many EMTs and paramedics enter this field of work because they obtain great satisfaction out of helping others and/or supporting their community. In fact, EMTs must take an oath that they will work to the benefit of their patients and that they will continuously and unselfishly serve to make the world a better place.
  • Are you in good physical condition? Not only will you have to lift and transport patients as a routine part of the EMT job, you will need to carry the necessary medical equipment to properly treat patients wherever they are located. You will also need to hear well and have good color vision. A pre- employment physical examination is mandatory.
  • Will you pass a criminal background check? Most hospitals and ambulance companies will not hire you to provide patient care as an EMT if you have a criminal background.
  • Do you have a good driving record? As an EMT you will need to drive an ambulance to accident or medical scenes quickly and safely and then return just as quickly to a medical facility transporting a patient. Aspiring EMTs should have a good driving record with no demerits.
  • Can you tolerate the sight of injuries and blood? If you answer no to this, then becoming an EMT is not the career choice for you.
  • Do you thrive in a fast-paced work environment? The EMT job, by its very nature, is fast-paced requiring EMTs to respond to emergency 911 calls quickly and to provide patient care and treatment correctly and efficiently. You will need to be able to take orders and work as part of an emergency response team.
  • Do you have personal integrity? EMTs must adhere to a very specific code of ethics at all times.

If, after reviewing the above questions, you have decided a career as an EMT is right for you, you will next need to decide where to start. Most people start by obtaining the EMT level of certification. An EMT performs very basic procedures such as assessing trauma, administering oxygen, or performing airway maintenance. Advanced EMTs have more advanced training, which allows them to provide more extensive medical care such as administering intravenous fluids or using a defibrillator. Paramedic is the highest level of EMT certification; while this level requires two years of college and extensive field experience, Paramedic is also the EMT level that can provide the widest scope of medical treatment.

By fully understanding what the EMT job entails as well as the education and training requirements to obtain an EMT certification and job, individuals can select the EMT training path that is right for them.

Clinicals/”Ride Alongs”

Emergency medical technicians (EMTs) must complete specific training requirements before they can apply to take the test for EMT certification. EMT coursework combines classroom training with clinical and field experience to expose the EMT to the different scenarios they will face on the job, as well as to provide them with practical, hands-on experience. Training can sometimes be rigorous, but it is all necessary so that an aspiring EMT can demonstrate his or her mental and physical preparedness to deliver quality emergency medical care to patients.

The field instruction portion of EMT training includes a specific number of hours to be worked in a clinical setting, typically an approved hospital emergency room, as well as performing “ride alongs” with a veteran ambulance crew as they respond to 911 emergencies. Students will have a preceptor assigned to them; the preceptor will be available to help the student, answer the student’s questions, demonstrate procedures, and evaluate the student’s progress. This portion of an EMT’s training is valuable in that the student gains experience interacting with medical personnel in both pre-hospital and hospital settings and may also perform patient procedures under very close supervision.

During the “ride along” portion of an EMT’s training, the student will both observe and perform certain skills, with a preceptor confirming the EMT’s level of participation. The student will be involved with activities such as: assessing the patient and checking his or her vital signs, administering oxygen, immobilizing spines, splinting, bandaging, and lifting and moving. The EMT will also be expected to first observe and then perform ambulance clean-up and restocking. Additional clinical training may include applying cardiac monitor electrodes, accompanying medical personnel to meet patients arriving by helicopter, and transporting patients in wheelchairs.

Students participating in a “ride along” or while training at a hospital should adhere to a proper dress or uniform code, be well-groomed, carry proper photo identification, and act professionally at all times. Students will need to have a watch with a second hand, a stethoscope, and their training manual. During a ride along, the student will practice the use of personal protective equipment to minimize exposure to and risk from infection. Students must adhere to privacy rules and patient confidentiality at all times; a breach of patient confidentiality can result in the student’s removal from the program.

Follow these important tips to make the clinical portion of your EMT training a success:

  • You are there to learn, so take advantage of every opportunity to help, whether you are asked or not.
  • If you are not familiar with a task or procedure, ask questions or ask your preceptor for help to get the support and information you need to feel comfortable and confident performing your duties.
  • Do not guess at what might be the right way to do something. While the chances are good that your guess is correct, if it is not, you could be making a potentially deadly mistake, which leads to the next tip.
  • Admit your mistakes quickly; this is a sign of a mature, responsible professional.
  • Just as guessing incorrectly at something could have disastrous results, so could not admitting you made a mistake. The faster you inform your preceptor, the faster the problem can be resolved.
  • Do not perform a task on a patient until you have been told to do so, and even then, follow instructions to the letter. Before starting, repeat the order back to your preceptor to ensure you understand the instructions and show your supervisor that you do.
  • Keep your preceptor informed about your work and always obtain his or her permission prior to performing a new or advanced skill.