A paramedic degree will train a professional to diagnose and treat medical emergencies. A paramedic is typically the highest qualified emergency medical professional. Lesser qualified professionals will be called emergency medical technicians (EMT). The public may use EMT and paramedic interchangeably. A paramedic may face everything from a fall off of a ladder to severe car accident injuries in one shift. Paramedics often work alongside firefighters and law enforcement to coordinate a response to all emergency situations.
The National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians (NREMT) provides 5 levels of qualification. First Responder is the lowest level. The middle levels are EMT-Basic, EMT-Intermediate 1985, and EMT-Intermediate 1999. Paramedic is the highest level of qualification and training recognized by the NREMT.
However, some states have their own qualification levels instead of the NREMT standards. Because of the difference in standards and what duties each qualification level is allowed to perform, prospective paramedics should contact their state board first. This can help avoid enrolling in a program unsuitable for the state they intend to work in.
Nearly all programs which offer a paramedic degree allow applicants to enroll with a high school diploma. Each level of the NREMT standards is progressively more difficult and takes longer to complete. Most programs primarily cover EMT-Basic, both EMT-Intermediate levels, and the Paramedic qualification. Here is part of what each training level consists of:
- Diagnosis and response to cardiac, respiratory, and trauma emergencies
- Patient assessment
- Use of emergency equipment and tools
EMT-Intermediate 1985 and 1999:
- 30 to 350 hours of training
- Use of advanced airway tools
- Use of intravenous fluids
- Use of some medications
- Advanced medical procedures and training
- Use of medications
The coursework at the Paramedic qualification level is usually taught by a community college or technical school. Sometimes an associate’s degree is given at the completion of the course.
In addition to coursework, students likely will ride along with an experienced ambulance crew. They will also receive clinical and field practice. After each level is completed, an examination is given. Scores on the examination determine whether a student can progress to the next level.
A license is required in all 50 states to practice as either an EMT or paramedic. Most states require a passing grade on the NREMT’s examinations. A license is usually only valid for 2 or 3 years and then must be renewed. Nearly all states require continuing education for a license renewal.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the average hourly wages for both EMT and paramedics was $14.10 in May 2008. However, hourly wages varied greatly depending upon experience, geographic location, and qualification level. The middle 50% of EMTs and paramedics had hourly wages ranging from $11.13 to $18.28.
As of 2008, roughly 27% of EMTs and paramedics were part of a union. Union employees tended to enjoy slightly higher hourly wages and additional benefits. These included a certain number of sick days off per year, health insurance, or other perks.