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Paramedic Career Overview

What Does a Paramedic Do?

Paramedic programs prepare you with the medical knowledge and skills to help others in the time of their most desperate need. Paramedics are trained to handle any situation that requires stabilization and transport of individuals who are suffering a medical emergency.

Though the words "paramedic" and "emergency medical technician" are sometimes used interchangeably, there is actually a significant difference between the two positions. Paramedics are trained to do the same things EMTs do, but they are also qualified to administer oral and intravenous medications, intubate patients who have trouble breathing, and handle more complex testing and equipment.

Paramedics are usually dispatched to the scene of an accident or other emergency, where they work closely with police and fire personnel in order to assess the situation and treat any victims. While many paramedics work out of ambulances, some are trained to join the emergency medical flight crews and arrive at the scene on a fully-equipped helicopter.

Paramedics often work long hours, and those hours can be irregular. Since medical emergencies happen during every hour of every day, the paramedic never knows what a typical day will be like. Some cases might be easy and have an excellent outcome, while others might be difficult on every level, such as when dealing with a major multiple trauma, distraught family members, or the loss of a patient.

Formal Training Required to Become a Paramedic

Years ago, paramedics were trained on the job and worked their way through the ranks without any formal training. Today, however, formal education is a requirement for the vast majority of paramedic jobs.

Training to become a paramedic starts with becoming an emergency medical technician. After completing your basic EMT certification, additional hours are required to receive an intermediate certification. Though the hours required vary from state to state, up to 350 hours might be required to earn the EMT-Intermediate.

Paramedic programs typically take one to two years and can result in an associate's degree. In addition to courses on anatomy, physiology, and basic medical techniques, paramedic courses can include the following:

  • Disaster Preparedness
  • Hospital Pharmacology
  • Comparative EMS Systems
  • Blood Pathogens and Safety
  • EKG Interpretation
  • Childbirth and Related Issues
  • CPR and Advanced CPR
  • Treatment of Trauma
  • Advanced Life-Saving Techniques

Upon finishing the paramedic program, aspiring paramedics take the NREMT exam to receive their certification. Once you have become a paramedic, continuing education is required to keep your certification up-to-date. How much continuing paramedic training you need varies from state to state. A paramedic license is required in all states, and license renewal is typically required every two or three years.

The Typical Career Path of a Paramedic

Paramedics often start their careers as EMTs and work their way up. Paramedic programs can prepare you for the medical side of your career, but paramedic courses that focus on administration, management, and related subjects are also available.

This continuing education, coupled with a strong work ethic and plenty of experience, can lead a paramedic into related careers. Becoming a paramedic could open the door to a wide variety of careers:

  • Instructor
  • Dispatcher
  • Physician Assistant
  • Medical Sales Expert
  • Operations Manager
  • Supervisor
  • Executive Director of Emergency Services
  • Administrative Director

Some paramedics love their work in the medical field so much that it leads to the pursuit of further education and a higher medical degree. It is not unusual to see former paramedics working as registered nurses, physicians, surgeons, or health specialists.

Job Outlook and Salary Information for a Paramedic

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the future looks good for paramedics. Thanks in part to the aging of the population and overcrowding of hospitals, paramedic jobs are expected to grow by 9 percent through 2018. Paramedic jobs in metropolitan areas and with private ambulance services should be very good prospects.

The median annual salary for a paramedic was $30,000 in 2008. However, experience and time in the field matters to your bottom line; the salary for paramedics in 2008 ranged from just over $18,000 to just shy of $50,000, according to the BLS.

Paramedics often get into the business of medicine because they love helping people, and every emergency called in offers a unique opportunity to do that. For many, the monetary rewards pale in comparison to the satisfaction of knowing their job saves lives every single day.

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