Paramedic Job Description

When medical emergencies occur, paramedics arrive at the scene to evaluate the problem, start treatment, and transport sick or injured people to hospitals. While these first responders operate out of a base location such as a firehouse, the job takes them to all sorts of locations – from an apartment where someone is experiencing heart attack symptoms to a road where cars have crashed. Shifts are similarly varied because emergencies happen around the clock. Most paramedics work 40 hours or more per week, oftentimes scheduled in 12- or 24-hour increments. By its nature, the job is fast-paced and often stressful. The profession also posts high injury and illness rates.


Paramedic Duties and Responsibilities

Paramedics never know what types of emergency situations they’ll be called to on a given day. However, our analysis of job postings shows that paramedics should be ready to perform the following duties regularly:

Respond to Emergency Calls

When 911 calls come in, paramedics spring into action. They listen to information provided by the dispatcher to get an idea of what to expect at the scene. Upon arrival, they speak with patients and others who are around (such as family members or bystanders at an accident) to assess what treatment is needed.

Provide Medical Care

Paramedics administer services on the spot and in the ambulance while traveling to a medical facility. Actions depend on the situation, but common tasks include taking blood pressure and pulse, performing CPR, cleaning wounds, and administering oxygen.

Drive Ambulances

As part of their training, paramedics receive instruction on ambulance driving. They transport patients to hospitals and other appropriate urgent care centers as quickly as possible while also navigating the road safely.

Write Patient Reports

Paramedics compile patient reports. These documents state basics such as the place to which they were called, the condition of the person when they arrived, and if the patient was taken somewhere for further care. The report also details the services already performed. Such information helps emergency room doctors and other medical personnel gain an understanding of the crisis. Insurance companies and law enforcement may request copies of these documents for their purposes.

Check Equipment

No paramedic wants to discover a lack of IV bags when someone desperately needs fluids. Thus, replenishing supplies stored in the emergency vehicle is a routine occurrence. Likewise, paramedics regularly inspect medical equipment to ensure it will function properly when the time comes.


Paramedic Skills and Qualifications

The desire to truly make a difference in the lives of others forms the base of why most paramedics choose this profession. Success at the job, however, requires more than just a good heart. Other factors critical to the position include:

  • Industry knowledge – paramedics open airways, provide CPR, control bleeding, splint injured limbs, manage patient shock, treat allergic reactions, and perform other medical procedures within their purview as necessary
  • Decision-making – processing information quickly but effectively to determine what action to take is vital when every second counts
  • Communication skills – careful listening helps paramedics understand what the patient is experiencing, and clearly conveying information to team members and others providing assistance promotes quick, accurate resolution
  • Levelheadedness – maintaining composure in a potentially dangerous environment or when others are panicking aids in easing tension and delivering proper service
  • Physical fitness – movements such as kneeling, bending, and lifting are common


Tools of the Trade

Paramedics use a variety of equipment on a regular basis, including the following:

  • IVs
  • Backboards and straps
  • Gauze, bandages, and tourniquets


Paramedic Education and Training

High school graduates interested in becoming paramedics typically enroll in a postsecondary program to qualify as an EMT (emergency medical technician). This basic training of about 150 hours sets the stage for further study. Paramedic courses then involve 1,200 to 1,800 hours of classes and training, and some schools award an associate’s degree upon completion. Graduates take an exam consisting of both written and practical parts that’s administered by the National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians. Paramedics must also be licensed in the state in which they work.


Paramedic Salary and Outlook

The median salary for EMTs and paramedics is about $33,000 annually, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The lowest 10 percent earn less than $22,000, while the highest 10 percent make roughly $57,000 per year.

As baby boomers age, medical emergencies such as falls, strokes, and heart attacks are expected to increase. Thus, the BLS projects employment of paramedics and EMTs to grow 15 percent over the next decade.


Helpful Resources

Think you might have what it takes to become a paramedic? These additional resources can help you make that career decision:

National Association of Emergency Medical Technicians – this industry association covers everything from what paramedics do to how to forge a career

National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians – NREMT offers specifics on how to become a nationally registered paramedic – this website developed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration covers a range of topics on emergency medical services. Recent articles include ways to combat job fatigue and how to stay safe while assisting others on roadways

Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs – search on “emergency services – paramedic” to find accredited programs that will get you on your way to certification

Emergency Medical Services – paramedics and similar professionals will find plenty of networking opportunities among the 32,000 members of this LinkedIn group

“What’s the Difference Between a Paramedic and an EMT?” – the UCLA Center for Prehospital Care does a great job answering this question on its website

Hands of an Angel, Mind of a Demon, Heart of a Saint: True Stories from a 10-Year Paramedic – get a close look at situations paramedics face with this firsthand account of the highs and lows experienced by a former paramedic

National Registry Paramedic Examination Strategies, Practice & Review – while this Kaplan test prep book is most useful to those already studying to become a paramedic, individuals contemplating the career may find it an interesting preview of what they’ll learn about in an educational program


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