Schools and Programs
Paramedics are on the front lines of healthcare, providing quick and competent care in life-and-death situations. Attending paramedic schools is the first step for those who want to move into this career. This page is designed to guide aspiring students through the educational and professional requirements, the available certifications, job responsibilities and other points that matter to those who want to work in emergency services.
Best Paramedic Programs
Enrolling in a quality paramedic school can prepare students to enter the healthcare field as first-response medical providers. The search for the best school can be tedious, which is why we analyzed every paramedic school in the country and ranked the top programs based on factors such as class size, cost of enrollment and registration, financial aid opportunities and graduation rates. Learn more about the top paramedic schools below.
Paramedics assist patients who are in desperate need of help, and their quick thinking and actions stand between potential tragedy and a positive outcome. Their responsibilities depend on experience, education and state laws. Paramedics begin their journey with emergency medical technician (EMT) training where students learn to assess the condition of a patient and handle emergencies that might include trauma, cardiac problems and more. Prospective paramedics must also pass through the EMT Advanced program, which includes more in-depth practices such as administering intravenous fluids and some medications. Graduates of paramedic training programs have expanded duties such as wound care and monitoring heart function.
Paramedics need post-secondary education and intensive instruction in emergency services that goes well beyond that of the EMT. Though paramedic schools typically award an associate degree, some graduates advance their studies with a bachelor’s degree. Paramedic training can be found in community colleges, vocational schools and the like.
Those who want to become paramedics can begin their journey with vocational schools. Many such schools offer certificates for paramedics, which might take up to 18 months to complete. Another option is the technical diploma, which could take between 18 and 24 months of study. Many states have specific requirements for graduates of paramedic programs at vocational schools-for example, they need an EMT license and current CPR certification. Most programs from trade schools and institutes are offered on a part-time basis to accommodate the busy schedules of those who are already working in emergency medical services.
Students who want to pursue the associate degree in paramedic studies can often find the classes they need at a local community college. These paramedic schools often aim for flexibility, with evening or weekend class meetings or the opportunity to take some courses online. Students may cover all the EMT requirements during the first year, and paramedic requirements during the second year. In addition to preparing students to obtain their paramedic license, the associate program also offers a stepping stone for those who might choose to enter a bachelor’s degree program in paramedic studies or a related medical profession.
Programs at Colleges and Universities
Students who choose to pursue the bachelor’s degree can often find paramedic or emergency medical service (EMS) programs through colleges and universities. Some four-year paramedic schools feature an accelerated format or online courses, especially for general education requirements. Certain institutions have specialized tracks such as pre-med, pre-nursing or pre-physical therapy. Paramedic programs might be billed under different names-for example, students at the University of Utah declare health promotion and education as their major, with an emphasis on EMS. Students should check into a program's outcomes to ensure that they will be eligible to sit for the paramedic license in their state upon graduation.
With so many paramedic schools out there vying for their attention, prospective students need a way to organize all the data. Students who are looking for the best possible program can turn to this list of important elements that paramedic schools must have in order to be seriously considered in their “short list” of potential schools.
The proper accreditation.
Paramedic programs might be offered through schools that are accredited on the regional or national level. But what about the program itself? Paramedic programs can seek recognition from the Committee on Accreditation of Educational Programs for the Emergency Medical Services Professions (CoAEMSP). There are currently 45 diploma programs, 342 certificate programs, 291 associate degree programs and 12 bachelor’s degree programs accredited throughout the United States, according to the CoAEMSP.
Program entry requirements.
Some paramedic schools require students to hold a particular certification before applying, or look to years of experience in making a decision about admission. Most programs prefer to admit those who have already earned their EMT-Basic or EMT-Intermediate credentials, and some require several years of service as an EMT. In addition, applicants might have to complete an examination, sit for an interview with the admissions committee and pass prerequisite courses – such as anatomy or chemistry – before admission.
Preparation for the National Registry Examination.
All states require paramedics to be licensed, and the regulations vary by state. The National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians (NREMT) offers certification for paramedics, which is required in many states. Students who attend paramedic programs should make certain that their education is suitable for the state in which they intend to work. Even if that particular state doesn’t require NREMT certification, the student might later move to a state that does. Preparing for the examination and sitting for it upon graduation can help ensure that no matter where a paramedic goes, they are ready to start work.
Many students who attend paramedic schools are also working full-time in the profession, and this schedule can be a serious consideration when it conflicts with classroom requirements. Students should pay careful attention to the requirements of the schools on their “short list” when it comes to flexibility of classes and testing, the ability to take courses in evenings or on weekends, or the possibility of completing at least some courses online in order to fit both education and work into their already tight schedules.
Expectations for a future career.
Those who plan to attend paramedic schools need to look at the big picture before selecting a program. Do they hope to eventually move into other areas of medicine, such as nursing? Do they intend to use their paramedic education as a stepping stone to other degrees? Students should find a program that suits their goals. For example, a student who intends to later pursue a nursing degree might begin with an associate degree. In that way, the general education courses earned could transfer to a bachelor’s degree program, which could cut down on required classroom time.
Though many paramedics gain vital on-the-job training in their trade, earning a degree or certificate adds a level of validity to their qualifications beyond experience alone. Numerous certificates are available, and these tend to be a popular route among those who seek a paramedic education while continuing to work in the field. Diplomas are also possible through trade or vocational schools. Certificates and diplomas typically take 18 months or so to complete, though the time might be shorter with accelerated courses, or longer if a student chooses a part-time schedule. Paramedics typically need at least 1,200 hours of education total.
The associate degree program is becoming more common as paramedics realize the benefits of earning a college degree. In most cases, the associate degree takes two years to complete, though as with the certificate and diploma, other factors might lead to a longer or shorter period of time in the classroom. Some bachelor’s programs are available for those who want to hone their skills, and possibly set up future plans to delve further into the world of medicine. Most bachelor’s programs take between four and five years to complete, and culminate in a degree that could lead to a master’s degree program for those interested in emergency services management.
Associate Degrees from Paramedic Schools
Aspiring paramedics can choose between the Associate of Science and Associate of Applied Science degree, in a major such as paramedic science or emergency medical services. Applicants should verify that a program prepares graduates to take on roles as full-fledged paramedics with the proper education to perform well in the career. Many programs require a combination of experience and education, including classroom hours, clinical hours, “ride time” and fieldwork. For admission, most programs require applicants to be registered EMTs with some experience in the position. In most cases, students can find associate degree programs through community colleges, though some technical and vocational schools also offer the degree.
Those who intend to pursue the associate degree can expect the equivalent of two years of classes. Depending upon the program and state guidelines, some programs teach students how to administer medications, use advanced lifesaving equipment and more. In addition to general education courses in subjects such as mathematics, English and science, students can expect several core courses in paramedic studies, including those listed below.
|Course||Typical Credit Hours||Course Description|
|Patient and Airway Assessment||4||Understanding the assessment criteria for emergency situations, assessing the airway, and immediate management of assessment results, including artificial ventilation.|
|Emergency Pharmacology||3||Focus on the pharmacology knowledge necessary to formulate an immediate treatment plan. Study of dosages and administration of proper drugs to mitigate emergencies and improve overall patient health on the way to hospital or clinic.|
|Principles of Emergency Medicine||4||Class incorporates pharmacology, assessment, concepts of shock and trauma, legal issues, communication, telemetry and trends in emergency medicine. Study of populations, including pediatric, geriatric, obstetric, surgical and other types of emergency units.|
|Anatomy and Physiology for Emergency Care||3||Overview of basic concepts of anatomy and physiology, including cardiopulmonary systems, disease manifestation and progression, and other relevant concerns of the emergency medical team.|
|Microbiology||4||Study of microorganisms, including bacteria, immune systems, nutrition, genetics, host-parasite relationships and bacterial nutrition, among other key points.|
|Special Patient Populations||4||Unique considerations for those with special needs in the emergency setting, including anatomy and physiology, medication interactions, field assessments and procedures in the event of a trauma emergency.|
Those who choose to expand their knowledge beyond the associate degree can find numerous bachelor’s degree programs offering paramedic studies. Majoring in paramedic science is one route, while other programs might focus on areas of health studies but offer a concentration in emergency medical services. Most bachelor’s degree programs take between four and five years to complete, though some students might need longer, depending upon the fieldwork requirements and whether they choose to attend school on a part-time basis.
In some cases, students must already have their EMT certification and some field experience under their belt in order to be admitted into the program, but there are also bachelor’s degree programs that combine the EMT and paramedic studies. These programs are usually found in colleges or universities, and might be delivered through an online format, with stipulations made for completing the necessary hands-on experience.
Required general education classes offer the opportunity to enhance key communication skills through subjects like English or speech. In addition, students can expect to take several core courses in paramedic science. The following is a sampling of courses students might encounter during their bachelor’s degree pursuit.
|Course||Typical Credit Hours||Course Description|
|Medical Terminology||3||Focuses on the important medical terms that all personnel need to know, including root derivations, pronunciations, logic, grammar and spelling in common usage.|
|Advanced Cardiology||4||Studies of rhythm interpretation, rapid recognition, immediate management, potentially lethal rhythms, myocardial infarction, lead placements, advanced lifesaving techniques and more.|
|Advanced Emergency Care||4||Lifesaving techniques in trauma or dire emergency situations, assessment and management of multiple injuries or issues, and modules supported by the American Heart Association and the National Standard Curriculum for the Paramedic.|
|EMS Administration||3||General overview of planning, budgeting, directing, staffing and evaluation in EMS management, as well as long-term organizational planning, human resources issues and administrative functions related to daily operations.|
|Disaster Management||4||Preparing first-responders to deal with widespread disasters and hazardous situations, including incidents with multiple casualties. Course covers incident command, disaster planning, scene control, and biological and chemical weapon response.|
|Managed Care in EMS||3||Focus on basic health insurance principles and managed care environments, and how those relate to providing emergency medical services. Cost, quality of care and access issues are discussed.|
Many EMS professionals choose to earn a certificate as they continue to work in the field. One of the most common certificates is the Emergency Medical Technician – Paramedic certificate, which prepares students to deal with a wide variety of situations in the field, as well as provide advanced life support and in some states, administer medications. These programs can be completed through a variety of schools, including community colleges and technical schools, and some programs are offered through hospitals. Students can expect targeted core courses that focus on advanced learning for EMTs and paramedics, as well as the required fieldwork. Below is a list of typical courses in a paramedic certificate program.
|Course||Typical Credit Hours||Course Description|
|Paramedic Studies||3||Typically divided into six to eight courses, this subject focuses on basic professional knowledge, including anatomy and physiology, advanced life support, principles of pharmacology, cardiology techniques and clinical laboratory experiences.|
|Patient Assessment||2||Understanding the legal issues that apply to patient assessments, treatment plans, documentation techniques, legal and ethical concerns, and basic assessment rules.|
|Medical Communication and Documentation||3||Review of legal issues surrounding medical consent, documentation of issues in the proper format, and communication with fellow EMS personnel, hospital staff, doctors and administrators. Regulations for sharing medical information with patients' families and loved ones.|
|Special Topics in Medicine||3||An ever-changing course, this focuses on the current issues that face EMS personnel, including legal and ethical concerns, new technologies and how they change emergency treatment, new rules for response and more.|
|Wilderness Survival||4||Covers preparation for wilderness trips, common mistakes made by hikers and nature enthusiasts, and providing emergency care in a primitive setting. Discussion of the importance of water and food in such situations. Survival strategies and ways to help others reach safety.|
|General Trauma Treatments||3||Focuses on the effects of various types of trauma on the body and the most effective methods for treating a patient who has been exposed to traumatic incidents. Also includes overview of pharmacology and how it relates to the patient with multiple injuries.|
Working as a paramedic or EMT often means helping people during some of their darkest, most frightening moments. That kind of work can take a toll on those who are not prepared for what they might see while on the job. That’s why certain characteristics are so important for those who are considering entering the paramedic program.
Personal traits and skills.
Strong communication skills and the ability to quickly solve problems are both required. Paramedics must have excellent physical strength, as they might have to lift and move patients who can’t provide any mobility of their own. Also important is a sense of empathy and a determination to help others who are facing serious situations.
Those who attend paramedic school must be ready for the job they are entering. Paramedics often work long hours- about one-third worked over 40 hours per week in 2012, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Working overnight and weekends is common, and it can be impossible to plan out a workday – some have very few calls, while others bring too many calls for one ambulance team to respond to, requiring outside help.
The work of a paramedic involves constant learning. As technology in medicine evolves by leaps and bounds, so do the technical knowledge, equipment and techniques that paramedics use to help those who need it most. Staying up-to-date on the latest information requires regular continuing education and training. Paramedics might aim for specialty certifications or classes that result in new skills, such as advanced pediatric CPR.
Ability to face disaster.
Paramedics must stay calm, no matter what they see on the job. Emergency situations often involve serious traumas or medical issues, and working with patients in distress can take an emotional toll on first responders. Paramedics can benefit from a background of psychology and sociology classes, a strong support system and the willingness to reach out for help when needed.
When emergency services are called, an EMT or paramedic – or both – might show up at the scene. What is the difference between the two? Though they both provide lifesaving services to those in need, the roles of EMTs and paramedics are fairly distinct in terms of scope of care.
EMTs are prepared to help patients with basic emergency care, including CPR, handling artificial ventilation or oxygen administration, preparing a patient for transport, and conducting assessments and vital sign checks. These professionals can use field equipment to provide life-saving measures and perform important procedures, such as clearing an obstructed airway. Those who complete the Advanced EMT program, which requires at least 300 hours, learn additional skills such as the use of complex airway devices.
Paramedics, however, are much more highly trained and can handle more types of emergency care. Depending on state regulations, responsibilities could include the use of breathing tubes, needle chest decompressions, EKG monitoring, administration of intravenous fluids, advanced lifesaving procedures and other techniques.
In short, the EMT is prepared to help with immediate problems and ready someone for transport from the incident site. A paramedic is like bringing the ER to the patient in the back of an ambulance – they provide the timely and life-saving skills that can get a patient to the hospital alive. Some advanced paramedics, such as specialists in critical care or transport, have even more training and can perform other duties, for example, a wider scope of medication administration.
Paramedics can choose to specialize in order to handle the unique issues that might be present in certain populations. A paramedic who is well-versed in pediatric trauma might be a valuable asset in a call concerning a motor vehicle accident involving children. Some programs from paramedic schools offer different concentrations as part of the course of study, but other specializations can be earned through time in the field and additional coursework. Here are a few of the more common specializations for paramedics:
Can handle patient transport from one hospital to another, as well as administering more advanced lifesaving procedures and medications.
Able to provide expert care to patients who are being transported to other medical facilities via helicopter or airplane. Usually certified in critical care, with several years of paramedic experience.
Focused on supervisory work including scheduling, budgeting, human resource management, strategic planning and public relations.
Trained to handle treatment of patients in dangerous circumstances, such as law enforcement operations, combat zones, water rescue and other high-risk situations.
Urban Search and Rescue
Deployed in high-stress situations in populated areas, including searching for and treating victims of building collapse, terrorist attack and other emergency situations.
There are many other specializations available for paramedics who wish to continue in their current role but enhance their skills in order to serve a broader population or provide more targeted care. Some examples of these specializations include pediatric advanced life support, neonatal resuscitation, trauma life support and advanced cardiac life support.
Talking to someone who has already put in their time in the field can make it easier to understand what the job of a paramedic entails. Captain Scott Miller is a retired paramedic and firefighter who spent many years on the job in California.
What led to your decision to become a paramedic?
I was only 15 years old when my dad started to have heart problems. Fast forward to my last two years of high school and I got interested in emergency services. Partly because of him, as he and I lived together, and partly because of his medical issues, I went to EMT school right out of high school. Also, my favorite uncle was a doctor and that was kind of a factor, too.
What is your educational background, and how did it apply to your job?
While still in high school, I had the opportunity to become a member of a volunteer organization, part of the Boy Scouts called Explorers. I became a member of a search and rescue unit attached to the Long Beach, CA Fire Dept. After high school, I got my EMT, applied for and got a job with a private ambulance company. After a couple of years of that, I applied for and got a job as an EMT for a fire department and a few years later, got a job as a career firefighter. And after doing that for several years, I was sent to paramedic school and served as a firefighter-paramedic.
I took minors in psychology and sociology, which I highly recommend for anyone wanting to work the streets as a medic. It gives you great tools, understanding and empathy for people you will be dealing with.
What did your day-to-day work entail?
I started in the early 1980s when the drug and gang wars were really hot and heavy so we ran on lots of trauma calls. Fatal shootings and shootings in general along with assaults, stabbings and the usual run of heart, seizures, crashes were an everyday occurrence. We were also firefighters so ran lots of fires and related calls. On top of that, there was the usual fire station cleaning, maintenance of station, tools and equipment, training, etc.
Captain Scott Miller points out the numerous avenues possible for those who have earned their paramedic certificate or degree: “You can be a full-time firefighter/medic with a fire department, a paramedic for a private ambulance company which may or may not handle all medical calls separate from a fire department, a flight medic on an air ambulance, a paramedic in the emergency room of a hospital, a private paramedic for business, industry, oil fields and offshore work, and many others.”
No matter the career path for a paramedic, the outlook for employment is much better than average. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, emergency medical technicians and paramedics can expect job growth of 23 percent from 2012 to 2022. Given an aging population and the higher risk of cardiac events and falls among the elderly, paramedics should see constant demand and perhaps an increase in calls. Those who are trained in patient transport could see better job opportunities.
EMTs and Paramedics
Provide care and transport for ill and injured patients, usually in emergency situations. They may be called upon to stabilize a patient for transport or even provide lifesaving care during transport.
Median salary: $31,270
Hourly salary: $15.04
Number employed: 239,100
Ambulance Drivers and Attendants
Drive sick or injured patients via medical transport vehicles, including ambulances, move patients from building to vehicle, stock and replace ambulance supplies, accompany EMTs on calls.
Median Salary: $23,610
Hourly salary: $11.35
Number Employed: 19,000
“Get all the experience and schooling that you can. Become a basic
EMT and get ambulance experience before going to paramedic training,” he said. “In many areas of the country, unless you get hired as a career firefighter, you have to put yourself through and pay for paramedic training on your own. Becoming a basic EMT and seeing what it's all about and what you have to go through, both good and bad, will let you know if this is really the job/career for you."