Emergency situations call for fast action and competent professionalism. Emergency Medical Services (EMS) professionals are generally the first to respond to distress calls, often in life or death situations. EMS workers, which include both Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs) and paramedics, provide emergency procedures and treatments designed to save lives. Some duties include performing cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), wound care and bandaging, patient assessment and transport, and various documentation responsibilities.
EMS professionals work demanding hours and odd shifts. Because emergencies can happen at any time, paramedics and EMTs are required to work at all-hours and in all weather conditions. They are often on-call and may work nights, weekends, or holidays. EMS professionals are usually employed by fire departments, police departments, hospitals, or ambulance services. In some cases, EMS professionals work in a dual capacity, such as EMT/firefighter or EMT/police officer. At a minimum, all states require EMTs and paramedics to complete necessary job training and pass the national board exam given by the National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians (NREMT). During their training, an aspiring EMT or paramedic can expect to study human anatomy and physiology, practical emergency medical treatments, and paramedic theory.
How to Choose the Right EMS or Paramedic Degree
Students interested in pursuing this career path should possess an interest in emergency medicine and a strong desire to help those who are sick or injured. The ability to do some heavy lifting and function in a variety of spaces is a must. EMS professionals must also exhibit a sense of compassion for their patients, possess excellent listening skills, and be exceptional problem solvers. Most degree and certificate programs require a high school diploma (or equivalent) plus CPR certification prior to enrollment.
To obtain employment as an entry-level paramedic or EMT, a professional certificate is generally required. A professional training program usually satisfies this requirement. In some areas, a licensed paramedic may need an associate degree. Licensure is required in all 50 states, and is typically satisfied by passing a national board examination. However, certain states also require successful passage of a state licensing exam. The chart below lists some EMS related degree programs that are available, along with potential career outcomes for each:
Length of Completion
EMS or Paramedic Certificate
Certificate programs typically last less than one year of full-time study and result in a non-degree certificate.
Associate in EMS
These programs generally take up to two years of full-time study to complete.
EMT, Paramedic, Firefighter, Police Officer or Detective
Bachelor's in EMS
Bachelor's degree programs typically take four years of full-time study to complete. They are often used to prepare EMS students for advanced medical degrees.
EMT, Paramedic, Firefighter, Police Officer or Detective, Registered Nurse
Master's in EMS
These programs take up to two years of full-time study after completion of a bachelor's degree. Master's degrees may be used for career advancement and leadership positions.
EMT, Paramedic, Firefighter, Police Officer or Detective, Registered Nurse
M.D. in Emergency Medicine and Critical Care
These programs take an additional four years+ of study after completion of a bachelor's degree, plus approximately three years of residency.
Physician/Surgeon (Emergency Medicine)
Students hoping to become an EMT or paramedic are usually able to secure entry-level employment after completing the necessary career training programs and passing their board exams. Professional certificates and associate degrees are the norm for most EMS professionals. Some students may wish to continue their studies by pursuing advanced degrees. While unnecessary for entry-level positions, in some cases, these degrees can help EMS professionals advance their careers and assist them in landing upper-level leadership positions.
What to Expect in an EMS Program
Because all EMTs and paramedics must pass the NREMT National Board Examination, training programs are generally standardized, covering the same widely accepted techniques, procedures, and best practices. Some core courses students can expect to take include:
- Introduction to Emergency Medical Care
- Well-Being for EMTs
- Medical/Legal and Ethical Issues
- Introduction to the Human Body
- Vital Signs and SAMPLE History
- Lifting and Moving Patients
- Maintaining Open Airways
- Patient Assessment, Physical Exams, and Documentation
- Respiratory and Cardiovascular Emergencies
- Allergic Reactions
- Poisoning and Overdose
- Environmental and Behavioral Emergencies
- Traumatic Injuries and Care
- Medical Emergencies for Infants and Children
- Advanced Airway Techniques
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that becoming an EMS professional requires successful completion of a postsecondary job training program. These training programs include both theoretical study and practical skills training. Generally speaking, EMTs must complete a training course consisting of 150 hours of instruction. A paramedic is required to complete 400 training hours.
Before earning their license, a paramedic or EMT must also pass the national board exam. This exam includes both written questions and practical applications of techniques and treatments. In some states, passage of a state exam is necessary for licensure.
Upon passing the NREMT National Board Exam, individuals will receive professional certification to work as an EMT or paramedic. EMT training programs are usually supported by local hospitals or ambulance services. Paramedic programs are typically completed at community or technical colleges and may lead to an associate degree. While professional certificates and associate degrees are sufficient for entry-level employment, a bachelor's or graduate degree in the field may lead to greater upward mobility, additional career opportunities, or more advanced medical training.
Online EMS and paramedic programs prepare students with a sound theoretical knowledge of emergency medical services. Some graduates work only as EMTs or paramedics, while others choose to combine their skills with other professions and work in a dual capacity. Some specializations in the EMS field include:
- Emergency Medical Technician (EMT)
- Ambulance Driver/EMT or Paramedic
- Firefighter/EMT or Paramedic
- Police Officer/EMT
- Registered Nurse/EMT
Specializations and dual job titles usually require additional training and/or degrees. For example, registered nurses (RNs) must earn a degree in nursing plus complete the EMT training to be recognized as both an RN and an EMT. Firefighters are generally required to complete a professional training program as well as EMT training. To drive an ambulance, EMTs and paramedics must complete their EMS training along with an ambulance driving course which lasts about eight hours.
Benefits of an Online Degree in EMS
As with any medically-related academic program, students must first understand the theories and concepts needed to provide proper medical care. Online EMS and paramedic degrees prepare students with the academic knowledge to pass the written portion of their board exams and treat patients as an emergency first responder. Once the academic foundation is laid, students can apply it in a practical, hands-on setting.
While completing the online portion of their studies, students learn through online video lectures, quizzes, and reading assignments. Communication with instructors and classmates takes place through message boards, video chat, and email. Programs are often self-paced, allowing students to work through the material at their own speed.
Online learning is perfect for adult learners, those with families, and students with prior work commitments. Because they have 24-hour access to their training materials, students enjoy the flexibility of studying at a time that is most convenient for them. Once their online book learning is complete, students might be expected to travel in order to complete their practical training. This hands-on training generally lasts about a week, and lodging costs may be included in the price of enrollment.
Careers in EMS
Those aspiring to a career in EMS have a variety of options available to them. Many paramedics and EMTs work for fire departments, while others work for stand-alone ambulance services or hospitals. Others may choose to pursue advanced degrees, opening up a variety of different careers within emergency medicine. The following chart details some EMS related careers, along with relevant wage and employment data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics:
Expected Job Growth
(2014 - 2024)
|Emergency Medical Technicians and Paramedics||244,960||$36,110||15.1%|
Online EMS and paramedic degree programs help prepare students for careers in emergency medical services. Entry-level positions usually require no more than a professional certificate or associate degree. However, some career paths may expect EMS professionals to work in a dual capacity, requiring additional training or degrees. Thus, prospective students should consider their career goals prior to choosing the degree program that is right for them.
For specific information about online EMS and paramedic degree programs, check out any of the schools listed below.
EMTs and Paramedics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Bureau of Labor Statistics, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/emts-and-paramedics.htm
Firefighters, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Bureau of Labor Statistics, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/protective-service/firefighters.htm
May 2015 National Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates, Bureau of Labor Statistics, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes_nat.htm
Physicians and Surgeons, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Bureau of Labor Statistics, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/physicians-and-surgeons.htm
Police and Detectives, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Bureau of Labor Statistics, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/protective-service/police-and-detectives.htm
Registered Nurses, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Bureau of Labor Statistics, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/registered-nurses.htm