How Paramedics Work

Paramedics Today
CPR classes are a basic -- but essential -- part of any paramedic's training.
CPR classes are a basic -- but essential -- part of any paramedic's training.
Mihajlo Maricic/iStock/Thinkstock

When people in uniforms jump from an ambulance to respond to a crisis, are they all paramedics? Probably not. There are various levels of certification available for people trained in prehospital care. At the entry level, there are emergency medical technicians (EMTs). They've usually completed between 120 and 150 hours of coursework, during which they're trained in a variety of lifesaving procedures including CPR, administering oxygen and dealing with allergic reactions. One thing they're not allowed to do is break the skin (so no needles) [source: UCLA].

By contrast, paramedics usually go to school for 1,200 to 1,800 hours [source: UCLA]. They can start IVs, manage airways, deal with heart attacks, and undertake advanced resuscitation and support. But to be eligible to become a paramedic, you have to have been a working EMT for at least six months prior.

The UCLA Center for Prehospital Care, which initiated emergency medical training back in 1970 and is home to the country's first nationally accredited paramedic program, charges $10,000 for basic tuition [source: UCLA]. Then there are fees for books, scrubs, uniforms, the national registry exam, state and local accreditation and licensing, and more. However, once you're done, you've got a good shot at employment. UCLA, for example, boasts that 95 percent of its graduates are working just six months after graduation [source: UCLA].

As for what you can earn, it all depends where you end up working. Strangely, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics lumps EMTs and paramedics together in the data, giving a mean annual wage of $31,270 (2015 figures). Those in the top 10 percent of this broad category earned $54,710. Because the training programs for paramedics are 10 times as long as those for EMTs, we can only assume they're bringing in the higher income. But as with any job, salary depends on location. The state of Washington seems to really appreciate its paramedics — recent job postings there offer annual salaries as high as $71,790 [source: U.S. News & World Report].