How to Become a Paramedic

Updated on February 8, 2024

Becoming a licensed, certified paramedic enables you to provide urgent, often lifesaving, medical care to people in crisis. This guide covers how to launch an exciting and meaningful career as an emergency services professional across the most common credentialing paths – from EMT and AEMT to higher-level paramedic specializations.

Overview of Paramedic Certification Levels

Emergency Medical Technician (EMT)

The EMT certification serves as the foundation for all advanced paramedic roles. Training focuses on basic emergency care skills like:

Education NeededHigh school diploma + 120-150 hour EMT training program
Timeline2 to 4 months
Costs$1,000 to $4,000 for tuition
RenewalRecertify every two years through continuing education credits
Salary Range$27,760 national average

Advanced EMT

AEMTs can provide additional interventions beyond EMT scope:

Extra Training (beyond EMT)Anatomy, physiology, pharmacology coursework
EducationHigh school + EMT certification + AEMT program
Timeline8 to 12 months
Salary Range$33,380 average salary

Paramedic / EMT-Paramedic

Paramedics represent the highest level of pre-hospital care training:

EducationHigh school + EMT + 1,200+ hour paramedic program
Timeline12 to 24 months to complete
Salary Range$43,640 average paramedic salary

Other State and Regional Paramedic Credentials

Certain states or jurisdictions may offer specialized certifications beyond the national EMT/AEMT/paramedic credentialing framework. These include:

Critical Care Paramedic – Extra training in advanced interventions for critical patients during hospital transfers.

Flight Paramedic – Certification covering emergency treatment and transport capabilities in helicopter/air medical units.

Wilderness Paramedic – Focuses on delivering treatment often miles from advanced care when injuries occur in remote settings. Popular for adventure tourism, camps, or natural resource agencies.

Tactical Paramedic – Support law enforcement/SWAT teams with customized emergency medical skills.

Step-by-Step Roadmap to Becoming a Paramedic

Step 1: Make Sure This Career Fits

Spend time exploring everything this vital role entails through informational interviews, ride-alongs and emergency department observations before enrolling in a program.

Step 2: Complete Anatomy, Physiology, and Other Prerequisite Courses

Many colleges require science prerequisites before starting paramedic education. Earning an Associate’s degree also helps long-term prospects.

Step 3: Get Your EMT Certification

Find an accredited program and pass the cognitive/psychomotor certification exams through the National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians (NREMT).

Step 4: Get Valuable Field Experience

Most states mandate at least six months of on-the-job EMT experience before starting paramedic-level education.

Step 5: Enroll in and Finish Paramedic Training

Immerse yourself in around 1200 hours of advanced classroom and lab instruction.

Step 6: Pass Certification Exams and Get Licensed

Take and pass the NREMT paramedic exam plus any tests required in your state to receive licensure authorizing independent practice.

Step 7: Search for Paramedic Job Opportunities

Leverage instructor recommendations and professional connections through clinical rotations to explore attractive openings.

Emergency Response Careers Offer Strong Growth Potential

The ongoing demand for paramedics and EMTs continues to grow nationwide. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects over 11% more paramedic jobs by 2030, with an average salary exceeding $43,000. Top earners make over $60,000 annually.

Beyond excellent pay, skills acquired through paramedic education open doors across healthcare. Many paramedics move on to high-paying nursing, physician assistant, or medical school programs over their careers. If you crave variety and meaningful service in your work, paramedic roles offer rewarding lifelong opportunities, making a significant difference when an emergency strikes in your community.


What is the easiest way to become a paramedic?

The quickest pathway is to first complete EMT training at a community college or technical school, obtain on-the-job EMT experience, and then enroll in a paramedic certificate program. This takes 2-3 years total. Those with an Associate’s degree can usually finish paramedic education in 12-18 months.

Can I become a paramedic with just on-the-job training?

Most states require formal paramedic education even for firefighters, police or others with medical first response experience. Completing an accredited training program allows you to qualify for mandatory national and state-level certifications.

How much does it cost to become an EMT or paramedic?

Tuition and fees for EMT certification ranges from $1,000 to $4,000 depending on location and program length. Paramedic programs cost between $6,000 to $15,000+ for advanced classroom education and lab work. Scholarships and employer tuition assistance can offset expenses.

What state pays paramedics the highest salary?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the top five highest-paying states for EMTs and paramedics are:

  1. Alaska – $76,880 avg. annual salary
  2. California – $64,300
  3. Hawaii – $63,550
  4. District of Columbia – $62,160
  5. Washington – $61,860

Should I become a paramedic or an RN?

Both careers offer excellent prospects in healthcare: RNs make around $75,330 on average compared to $43,640 for paramedics. Becoming an RN takes more education but also enables specialization. EMS roles provide more independence and urgent care skill-building for those who enjoy field work.

Does paramedic experience help for medical school?

Yes – serving as a licensed EMT or paramedic offers a unique advantage when applying to med school programs. Direct exposure to managing patients in emergency settings helps demonstrate you can handle medical stress and have developed excellent clinical acumen.