How to Become an EMS Worker

EMS workers play a critical role in providing immediate medical attention to patients in need. From dedicated dispatchers who handle the initial call for help to the EMTs and paramedics who deliver immediate medical care, the EMS system is a well-oiled machine with many moving parts. If you’re considering a career in emergency medical services, the process of becoming an employee in this field will vary based on the role you choose.

In this blog, we’ll explore the process of becoming an EMS worker, focusing on the roles frequently associated with EMS: EMTs, paramedics, and pilots.

What Roles Are Part of Emergency Medical Services?

EMS, short for emergency medical services, encompasses an array of roles that provide immediate, emergent medical care to patients in need. The roles span from the dispatchers who answer 911 calls to the paramedics and EMTs who offer care before the hospital to the emergency room doctors and nurses who offer life-saving medical care.

Understanding the Process of Becoming an EMS Worker

Since EMS workers are EMTs, paramedics, doctors, nurses, helicopter pilots, dispatchers, and more, the process of becoming one varies. However, when many folks think of EMS, paramedics, EMTs, and helicopter pilots might be the first positions to come to mind, so we’ll focus on these roles.

Remember, this is simply a sampling of the positions in this field, and the process varies based on your chosen role.

How to Become an EMT

Becoming an EMT starts with completing your basic education, whether that be your high school diploma or your GED certificate. Many programs require students to complete their basic education before starting, so the process starts there.

The cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) certification is another common prerequisite, although some programs may include it as part of the course. Once you complete your basic education and get your CPR certification, you can enroll in and begin your state-approved EMT program.

These programs usually entail six months to a year of training and schooling, laying a foundation for the medical knowledge you’ll continue to hone throughout your career. You’ll learn about many topics, from anatomy and physiology to basic life support techniques. The timeline to completion can vary based on the program and the time you have available to dedicate toward it.

Upon completing your program, you must pass the cognitive and psychomotor exams from your state’s certifying agency or the National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians (NREMT). The test covers everything from your newly acquired skills to handling hypothetical questions challenging your knowledge. After passing the test and getting your license, you can begin working as an EMT in your state.

How to Become a Paramedic

Becoming an EMT is a building block to becoming a paramedic, so if you want to take your career a step further by becoming a paramedic, you’ll need to start as an EMT. You need to become certified as an EMT-Basic before moving through the levels to become a paramedic.

However, it’s important to note that most programs require hands-on working experience as an EMT before starting paramedic training, so you may need to work for several months before starting school. Upon completing your work experience as an EMT, you can begin your paramedic schooling, which covers more advanced medical skills, such as endotracheal intubations.

After finishing the program, you’ll close out the journey with a final exam to get your license, but it’s important to note that these requirements for licensure can vary by state.

How to Become an EMS Helicopter Pilot

Becoming an EMS helicopter pilot is a lengthy process that entails countless hours of training and flight time. It starts with getting a degree, as many companies who hire pilots prefer or require a secondary education, although expectations can vary.

Before you can fly, you’ll need to complete a physical examination that clears you as medically sound for flying and ensures you don’t have a medical condition that could affect your flight abilities.

Next, you’ll need to start working toward your helicopter pilot license. There are a few ways to do this, including through the military or a Federal Aviation Administration-approved program. FAA-approved programs typically entail ground school, flight education, flight experience, and a final exam.

With your private pilot license in hand, you can earn your instrument certification, which is required for EMS helicopter pilots. Now, you’ll get your commercial helicopter pilot license, allowing you to get paid to fly for EMS.

In the weeks and months after you get both licenses, you’ll need to log more flight hours before you can begin working as an EMS helicopter pilot. After completing the entire process, you can begin your career as an “air ambulance” pilot.

Choose a Role That Fits Your Goals and Aspirations

The process of becoming an EMS worker varies dramatically based on the role you choose. While becoming an EMT may only take a few months, becoming an EMS helicopter pilot can take considerably longer, especially if you choose to begin your journey by learning to fly in the military. It all depends on the role, but to many EMS workers, the process is well worth the ability to help people in their time of need.