Career in Healthcare

The Demand for EMTs Remains High

By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant

If you are interested in the medical field and enjoy high adrenaline situations, working as an emergency medical technician might be for you.

Emergency medical technician (EMT) programs at community colleges or other schools last one semester (about 100-150 hours) and accept applicants as young as 17 (must be 18 upon completion). After successfully passing the exam, EMTs must complete 36 hours annually as a refresher and recertify every three years to maintain their credential.

“Many people get into this career because they have a feeling of community spirit or they want to help their community,” said Kevin Alexander, clinical education instructor at American Medical Response of Central New York in Syracuse. “They want to be there for people who are sick or injured. Some have a background of family or friends who are in healthcare. They enjoy helping out others in that capacity and want to get into the emergency medical field.”

The qualities he looks for in EMT candidates include high morals and ethics, good interpersonal skills and the ability to assess patients in a high stress situation.

“It’s the caring and compassion that ultimately you’ve got to have,” Alexander added. “You’re meeting these patients at their worst. The family members are worried about their loved one who’s sick or injured.”

The state requires that each person working as an EMT must be able to lift 125 pounds individually or 250 with assistance, read and speak English fluently, and carry a valid driver’s license. Individual agencies may also have additional requirements, such as a commercial driver’s license for a mobile stroke unit.

“We’re excited that with the decrease in COVID restrictions, things are getting back to normal as far as people coming out to look for a profession in EMS,” Alexander said. “That has helped get more people to want to join EMS.”

He recommends that people interested working as an EMT should volunteer as a “ride along” to see if they might like this work. They should also look at the subsequent employment opportunities. The role has significant turnover because of the entry-level nature of the work. Taking a National Registry EMT course and passing the associated exam can enable an EMT to work on cruise ships, oil derricks, in rural areas and internationally. These pay better.

Some people who find they enjoy working in healthcare move forward to paramedic classes, nursing school, medical school or other healthcare paths.

Paramedic classes take one to two years to complete with an average of 1,000 hours of training and 800 hours of clinical time. The model used to be one paramedic and one EMT per ambulance. However, some ambulance services use a staffing of two EMTs per ambulance with a paramedic in a “fly car” responding to acute calls as needed because it’s been difficult to attract EMTs. An accredited 911 center decides the priority level.

Although EMT work tends to attract people who thrive on high-energy work, it’s not always dramatic, life-and-death scenarios.

“A fair amount of our work is non emergent but there’s a fair amount that is horrific,” said Douglas Sandbrook, EMS liaison at Upstate University Health System and director of EMS Education at Upstate Medical University department of emergency medicine. It takes a toll on providers, like critical events you encounter that are difficult.”

For this reason, it is important that EMTs develop the ability to communicate their needs so they have sufficient time away from work to decompress and mitigate the effects of stress. Sandbrook has worked as a paramedic 31 years.

“I’ve never done the same call or encounter twice,” he said. “It’s very rewarding. I believe it’s impactful. You get to meet amazing people and learn about their lives. And hopefully, you can make a difference.”

Anyone interested in working as an EMT can take advantage of opportunities at volunteer agencies that provide free classes for those who pass the exam.