In September of 2018, I had my first day of EMT (Emergency Medical Technician) class. I had absolutely no idea what to expect, but I was ready to take it very seriously. I was extremely excited and also a little nervous because while I have always been good at learning information that I can file away in my brain, I am not as good at learning skills that need to be executed by muscle memory especially in stressful or timed situations.
In any case, I had signed up through an outreach program at a hospital. It was cheaper to take the class through the hospital than to take it on a university campus, almost ¼ of the cost. This was even more important for me because I was coming in as an out-of-state student therefore a university would have charged me even more. They required two letters of recommendation, a picture, proof of my U.S. citizenship, and proof that I was over the age of 18. I also provided them with a copy of my college diploma because they preferred students who had some pre-med background. I’ll get in to why that background was incredibly helpful later on. The registration was very easy and simple. In addition, for paying for the class, I had to pay a small fee in order to become CPR certified, another small fee for the stethoscope and blood pressure cuff they provided us with, and about $110 for the textbook which they asked us to buy online.
Being Pre-Med Definitely Helps
We were asked to read chapters 1 and 2 before the first day of class. Of course, I read and took diligent notes because I felt like anything and everything could possibly help me save someone’s life in the field one day. While I eventually learned that I probably wouldn’t be in too many life-threatening scenarios, it was a good thing I took such careful notes because we were quizzed right away on the first day of class and those quizzes were extremely specific to the information in the textbook. A lot of my classmates failed that first quiz. I realized that I had to continue taking extremely detailed notes in order to continue doing well in the class. This not only helped me do well in the class, but it also prepared me extremely well for the exam that we would need to take once the class had been passed.
I spent roughly 2 hours of time on every ten pages of the book. My husband kept asking me why it would take so long to read one chapter and I explained that I was doing what I like to call “active reading”. This is in opposition to passive reading where two minutes after you have read something you can no longer recall it. In active reading, I try to memorize and commit information to long term memory as I am reading. The textbook is over 1000 pages so you do the math of how much time I spent staring at those pages. It is true, however, that several of the chapters that covered the anatomy and physiology of the body were not new to me. I had learned these things well in college which worked to my advantage in my EMT class. Without this background, I would have had to memorize hundreds of new vocabulary words because anatomy is a very dense subject. My background in biology and pre-med also helped me make very educated guesses in scenarios and questions that I didn’t actually know the answer to.
Take the Class, Take the Exam, Get Your License
In order to become an EMT, you first have to take an EMT class. My particular class was point based with each quiz worth 30 points, the midterm worth 100 points and the final exam worth 200 points for a total of 800 points in the class. You needed an 80% in order to pass the class which is equivalent to 640 points. After you successfully pass the class, you become eligible to take either the national or the state exam of whichever state you live in. Our instructors encouraged us to take the national so that we could be licensed in any state if we ever moved to a different part of the country. After you take the national you are now considered certified. You have to send proof of your certification, along with other formal documents and a fee, to your state’s public health department in order for them to clear you for a license to practice in that state.
The Job Description
Once your license arrives in the mail, you can finally get a job! In the state that I live in, EMT’s usually get hired by private ambulance companies because the state only hires paramedics and even then, they prefer paramedics who are also trained as firemen. This is because the state is responsible for answering most 911 calls. People think that 911 calls are the only aspect of emergency medicine, but this is not the case. The private ambulance companies will pick up the overload of the 911 calls, but they will mostly be responsible for transporting patients who cannot be transported without an ambulance. This includes sick patients who need to be under constant supervision, critical patients who need to be transported from one hospital to another, and disabled or otherwise impaired patients who need to be brought to and from a hospital, a nursing home, and their own home.
EMT’s are trained in how to transport and move around patients who cannot walk, who cannot stand, and who can’t even open their eyes. They are also trained in how to move patients who have painful injuries and psychiatric patients who may become irritable or hostile. Now you may think that private ambulance companies sound like a glorified taxi service. And perhaps some part of that is true, however, the reason why EMT’s are trained in all aspects of emergency medicine is because a patient that is simply being transported home could go into cardiac arrest, could start coughing up blood, could have an aneurysm burst right as the ambulance hits a speed bump, etc. Sick people, and especially elderly patients, usually have multiple things that are wrong with them and it is for these rare circumstances that we are prepared for.
It is also important for us to know and be able to execute emergency procedures in the events of any mass-casualty incidents such as natural disasters, acts of war or terrorism, or even if you are driving by and notice a car accident that has just taken place. Our skills will allow us to engage right away and possibly save a life before a paramedic unit can get there. Private ambulance companies can also be hired by big events such as concerts or athletic events as a stand-by emergency medical team in case anyone is injured or needs to be rushed to a hospital.
The great thing about emergency medicine is that there is a high turnover rate of EMT’s within these private ambulance companies because the companies really encourage their employees to continue their education and move up the ladder of emergency medicine. After you work as an EMT for a certain amount of time, most companies will send you to paramedic school for free in return for a year or two of working for them as a paramedic. Paramedics can then become specialized in fields such as search and rescue or can continue on to becoming a flight medic or an emergency tech at a hospital. Scheduling is fairly flexible and employees can work long or short shifts depending on their preference. A person who always works a 12-hour shift only has to work three shifts per week in order to be considered full-time. If you are in school or have another job or are a parent, this is a great convenience.
All EMT’s start as an EMT-B. The B stands for basic. For those who don’t want to invest the time and energy into becoming a paramedic, you can progress to an EMT-I. The “I” stands for intermediate and it allows you to learn new things and acquire new skills in a shorter amount of time without having to take on the responsibility of becoming a paramedic. The EMT-I can perform a few more things than an EMT-B and can potentially earn more money. Becoming an EMT-I can serve as a transition between being an EMT-B and being a paramedic. At all levels, you can participate in community health programs and become an advocate for risk prevention in your community if you find this type of work more rewarding.
The Difference Between an EMT and a Paramedic
People often ask me what the difference between an EMT and a paramedic is so I would like to elaborate on that. The difference between the two is in the level of care each is able to provide. EMT’s have a list of about 10 medications they are able to give, none of which can be given through an IV line because EMT’s are not trained to do so. Paramedics can give a much wider variety of medications and they can do so through IV’s. Paramedics can put an advanced airway in whereas EMT’s can only use basic airways meaning we can only open up the mouth and some of the throat whereas a paramedic could open an airway down into the esophagus. Paramedics can also use and read EKG machines to monitor heart rhythms and they can perform certain operations in the field such as a tracheotomy. EMT’s are still trained in CPR, bone splinting, emergency deliveries, environmental emergencies and can respond to bleeding, car accidents, drowning victims, spinal injuries, heart attacks, strokes, seizures, etc.
To close, I really enjoyed my EMT class. I learned many new things, all of which make so much more sense now that I actually know how to apply them in real life. I did think that emergency medicine would be more based on actual emergencies, but I have to say, I am almost relieved that they don’t just throw EMT’s into the thick of things. I am starting out at a very low level and I am grateful to have the time to learn and spend time in the field before I will be faced with any true emergencies.