What, Exactly, Does an EMT Do?

Emergency Medical Technicians, or EMTs, respond to medical emergencies, using their knowledge of a broad range of conditions, illnesses, and responses to provide critical care. The nature and unpredictability of the day-to-day work make EMT test preparation essential–ensuring an EMT can make decisive judgment calls, often under pressure, to stabilize patients and deliver life-saving care before transporting them to a hospital if necessary.

Let’s break down the role a little further, whether you’re interested in training to become an EMT, want to assess the potential career paths as a first responder, or need to know the differences between emergency medical professions.

The Role and Responsibilities of an EMT

First, let’s clarify that an EMT is one of several possible roles within emergency medicine, and there are also varied categories of EMT, depending on the organization or service you’d like to work for and your existing level of knowledge or education.

What is the difference between an EMR and an EMT? Emergency Medical Responders (EMRs) can be trained first responders who are not primarily medical staff members. For instance, a firefighter or lifeguard may hold an EMR certification. An EMT holds more advanced skills, can provide emergency interventions, and can transport patients to the hospital after assessing their condition. They do this while making decisions to protect their welfare and stabilizing the individual so they can be safely transported.

The certification level required to become an EMT is higher than an EMR, although you can also progress to a further qualification of an AEMT (advanced EMT) or paramedic–the highest qualification within the US ambulance service. While there is no obligation to progress to paramedic school, some EMTs have a career plan and choose to study for the AEMT certification before studying to become paramedics. In contrast, others intend to work as EMTs for the long term.

What Personal Skills Do You Need to Be an EMT?

The responsibility for delivering emergency care can be highly pressured, and every day is different. Great EMTs find this a challenging and rewarding environment, but emergency medicine requires a certain character and willingness to be agile, quick-thinking, and confident in your decisions. 

Is working as an EMT stressful? If you’d rather have a predictable job following a consistent routine, emergency healthcare may not be the best fit! However, if you can trust your instincts to find the best possible response on the spot to save a patient’s life and thrive on the diversity and huge importance of your role, training as an EMT may be the ideal profession.

What Does a Typical Day as an EMT Look Like?

EMTs provide emergency medical care for people who become unwell, experience an injury, or suffer a critical incident. Their primary focus is to preserve life and ensure each patient receives the right medical care.

Most EMTs work in pairs, although some work on ambulance crews alongside paramedics, who have achieved a higher standard of training and can perform more involved interventions where necessary. Depending on the organization or ambulance service an EMT works for, they might be expected to:

  • Respond to emergency callouts
  • Deliver interventions ranging from basic first aid to life-saving care, including cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR)
  • Assess each person’s condition, formulating an immediate plan to stabilize them and determine whether they need ongoing care at a medical facility
  • Log the care provided and liaise with other healthcare professionals to communicate observations, readings taken, and procedures performed

The typical work structure is over a twelve-hour shift. However, EMTs commonly work on-call, meaning they must be ready and available to respond at any time, whether working in an ambulance service or providing emergency first responses to medical crises.

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