In the field of emergency medical services (EMS), there are different levels of certifications for provider of care. Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs) are the most common type of providers in all of EMS. They are the entry-level patient care provider followed by EMT-Intermediates (in some states) and then paramedics. EMTs are sometimes referred to as EMT-Basics or EMT-1s. However, do not be fooled by the term “entry-level.” EMTs learn the essential skills to help in life-threatening situations and their education is the foundation for all other levels of provider. As one EMS instructor recently put it, “You can’t learn and be good at advanced skills without having a solid foundation of basic skills.” Many paramedics, doctors, nurses, and firefighters have used their EMT education and work experience as a stepping stone to their new career.
Both EMTs and paramedics have the knowledge and skills to transport patients and provide them with emergency care. The biggest difference between them is the amount of education they receive and what they are allowed to do for patients (scope of practice).
EMTs usually complete a course such as UCLA’s EMT course that is about 120-150 hours in length. Paramedic courses can be between 1,200 to 1,800 hours. EMT and paramedic courses consist of lectures, hands-on skills training, and clinical and/or field internships. EMTs are educated in many skills including CPR, giving patients oxygen, administering glucose for diabetics, and helping others with treatments for asthma attacks or allergic reactions. With very few exceptions, such as in the case of auto-injectors for allergic reactions, EMTs are not allowed to provide treatments that requiring breaking the skin: that means no needles.
Paramedics are advanced providers of emergency medical care and are highly educated in topics such as anatomy and physiology, cardiology, medications, and medical procedures. They build on their EMT education and learn more skills such as administering medications, starting intravenous lines, providing advanced airway management for patients, and learning to resuscitate and support patients with significant problems such as heart attacks and traumas. Paramedic education programs (such as UCLA’s Paramedic Program) may last six to twelve months.