How to Become an EMT - Emergency Medical Technician

EMTprep Staff Updated Nov 16, 2021

What is an Emergency Medical Technician?

An emergency medical technician is a healthcare provider whose scope is optimized to be effective in the prehospital and transport environments. EMTs have the basic skills required to stabilize and transport patients in settings ranging from non-emergent medical transport to the scenes of medical emergencies.1 Depending on the work environment and day, an EMT could be driving dialysis patients between their residence and appointments or treating traumatic injuries, administering medications, and driving ambulance lights and sirens to the hospital. EMTs generally function as part of the Emergency Medical Services (EMS) system under medical direction, though they are also employed in many places where injuries or illness could happen such as a summer camp or a cruise ship.

Education Requirements to Become an EMT

Generally, EMT schools require their students to have a high school diploma or GED. Additionally, many EMT programs require students to already have their CPR certification before starting EMT school. It is a good idea to check the requirements of the school you are considering applying to because some CPR courses are more readily accepted than others. The American Red Cross and American Heart Association both offer CPR classes that are accepted at most schools. If you are looking for an EMT program, the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) is a good place to start. They provide accreditation for EMT schools to be allowed to have their programs and keep a database of every accredited EMT school in every state on their website.2 It is a requirement to go to one of these schools in order to receive your licensure to practice once you complete the program. An EMT program has around 120-170 hours of instruction to complete. Other than the coursework, EMT schools have a component of clinical field training. This training is conducted via simulated scenarios, clinical rotations in an ambulance, or clinical rotations at an emergency department.

Licensing and Certifications

Once a student has completed and passed an accredited EMT school, they are allowed to test for their EMT certification. All certification of EMTs in the United States is managed by the National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians (NREMT). There are two exams in order to obtain an EMT certification: the cognitive exam and the psychomotor exam. The cognitive exam is a computer adaptive test that tests on the medical knowledge required to be an EMT as well as general EMS operations. If a student fails the exam, they can retest 15 (or more) days after the exam. If the exam is failed 3 times, remedial education is required in order to retake the test. After 6 failures, a student is required to completely retake an EMT program in order to take the cognitive exam.3 The psychomotor exam is generally conducted by the state EMS office or the accredited EMT program with oversight from the NREMT. This test is in-person (some remote options have been implemented during the coronavirus pandemic) and involves scenarios and testing skills such as oxygen administration or placing a patient in spinal precautions. If a skill is failed, each individual program will work with the students on the path to remediation training and retesting. Once a student passes both their cognitive and psychomotor examinations they must apply for a state license to practice in the state they would like to work. This involves the state conducting a background check on the student and verifying they have their EMT certification from the NREMT. 

During the course of your studies, it is vital to utilize a variety of resources. In addition to using for your NREMT exam preparation, be sure to have your textbooks nearby, along with any notes you took in class. We highly recommend that anytime you come across a new term or piece of information you were unaware of, that you review that section(s) in your textbook. 

EMT Salary

The average salary for EMT basics in the United States is $15.60 per hour.4 This can fluctuate a lot depending on experience and role. An entry-level EMT may make a little less than that, but an experienced EMT who has gained a leadership or training role at their company may make a lot more. Additionally, being an EMT is frequently a prerequisite for higher-paying jobs within EMS such as a firefighter or a paramedic. 

Character/Physical Traits of EMTs

Being an EMT is an important job, and it’s important that individuals thinking about the career have an understanding of what the job entails. It can be stressful, fast-paced, and requires individuals who are comfortable working under pressure. In many emergency situations, time is of utmost importance, and working efficiently while maintaining a stable headspace is a must. EMTs also have to have compassion. The goal of EMTs is to help their patients and individuals with compassion tend to be better providers and find the work more rewarding. EMTs need to have sufficient physical strength as well. Different roles and positions have different requirements but EMTs are frequently found moving and lifting patients and bending or crouching to provide appropriate patient care. Lastly, EMTs need to have problem-solving skills. The emergency environment is ever-changing and there are new unique patients every day that count on EMTs to have critical thinking skills in order to figure out what is wrong and provide appropriate care.


  1. Emergency medical technicians (EMT). National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians. (n.d.). Retrieved November 16, 2021, from 
  2. Esmet. (n.d.). Commission on accreditation. CAAHEP. Retrieved November 16, 2021, from
  3. Cognitive exams - general information. National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians. (n.d.). Retrieved November 16, 2021, from 
  4. Home. Job Search. (n.d.). Retrieved November 16, 2021, from 
  5. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2021, September 8). EMTs and paramedics : Occupational outlook handbook. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Retrieved November 16, 2021, from