Employment opportunities for EMTs
There is no more iconic image of emergency medical technicians than the paramedic who rides in the back of an ambulance, arrives at the scene of an emergency, stabilizes patients, and escorts them to a hospital. Although working in the back of an ambulance is certainly one career option for a certified EMS professional, many other career opportunities exist. Aspiring EMTs should carefully consider the pros and cons of each option to find the best possible directions for their individual careers.
Private Ambulance Services
About 40 percent of all emergency medical technicians work for private ambulance services. Private ambulances handle most non-emergency patient transfers, such as trips to nursing homes and transfers from one hospital to another. They carry patients who cannot drive, handle discharges from hospitals and also respond to some emergency calls. Since private ambulance companies are required to have at least one EMT in every vehicle, it is usually fairly easy for a certified EMS professional to get a job. Unfortunately, the round-the-clock nature of these companies means their EMTs often work very long shifts, and working conditions vary widely from company to company. On average, emergency medical technicians employed by private ambulance services work 45 to 50 hours weekly. Private ambulance services also tend to pay less than hospitals and municipal fire and rescue departments.
EMTs employed by municipal fire departments are a key part of municipal emergency response systems. They respond to emergency scenes alongside police and firefighters and provide the most immediate medical treatment, often before ambulances arrive. Many EMS professionals find this line of work particularly rewarding because they work alongside other emergency professionals to help people who are in immediately life-threatening situations. Working at a fire department does mean long hours for the emergency medical technicians, typically 50 per week. It also means exposure to violent and sometimes dangerous situations. Pay scales at fire departments vary: typically, EMTs who work in big cities earn more than those in suburban or rural areas. On average, municipal fire and rescue departments pay their paramedics more than hospitals and private ambulance services.
Large hospitals with their own ambulances employ emergency medical technicians to transport patients in those ambulances. In addition to responding to the scene of emergencies, these EMS professionals work in the emergency department itself, assisting with triage, diagnostic and treatment tasks. Working in a hospital gives EMTs a chance to work directly with doctors and nurses, which can be an outstanding opportunity to learn more about medicine. Indeed, many physicians and nurse practitioners started their medical careers working as emergency medical technicians in hospitals. As with local fire rescue departments, working at a hospital means exposure to emergency situations, which can prove stressful and dangerous. Hospitals tend to pay more than private ambulance companies, but less than fire rescue departments.
Some emergency medical technicians specialize in providing on-site medical care at large events, such as concerts, conventions, trade shows and sporting events. Rather than being called to emergencies as they occur, these EMS professionals are on call in case a medical emergency arises at the event. Focusing on events allows certified EMS professionals to work comparatively normal hours, since they are most needed during the day and in the early evening. Because only a fraction of events actually involve a true medical emergency, this type of work is also much less stressful than working for a hospital or a municipal fire department. On the other hand, many EMTs want to be involved in actual emergencies, and on-site work may not appeal to those professionals.
Flight for Life
Flight for Life, a pre-hospital care service, specializes in emergency helicopter transport of patients who are in particularly critical condition or who cannot be reached by traditional ambulances. EMTs who work for Flight for Life and similar organizations help critically injured patients who need specialized care, such as burn victims and injured children. The excitement of working on helicopters of other aircraft, plus the sense of importance that comes from helping people in need who are out of the reach of ordinary emergency transport, appeals to many certified EMS professionals. It is important to note, though, that emergency medical technicians who work on helicopters require a high level of training; they are often called upon to place and monitor chest tubes or aortic balloon pumps and even perform certain emergency surgical procedures.
Urgent Care Clinics
Clinical work doesn’t immediately come to mind when people think of paramedics, but in fact, urgent care clinics can use many of the skills a certified EMT has to offer. Taking patient histories, applying bandages, assessing symptoms and conducting triage are all tasks that EMS professionals can perform, and they always needed when dealing with urgent care patients. EMTs who work in urgent care settings find that their advanced life support skills are usually unneeded. However, they gain familiarity with laboratory work and experience dealing with patients on a more personal level. Working in an urgent care clinic is a relatively low-stress work environment for certified EMS professionals, with fewer hours and fewer nights and weekends as compared to working in emergency response. Furthermore, working alongside doctors and nurses presents a tremendous learning opportunity.
Opportunities exist for certified emergency medical technicians in a wide range of settings. Traditional EMT settings, such as hospitals and municipal fire departments, tend to subject EMS professionals to a high degree of stress, but also tend to pay very well. Lower-stress opportunities, such as private ambulance services and urgent care clinics, are also available, though the compensation is typically less. When seeking a job as an EMT, it is important to take into account the salary offered, work conditions, hours to be worked and opportunities to learn and grow towards future career opportunities. Instead of feeling constrained by the traditional job description of a paramedic, certified EMS professionals should explore every opportunity to find jobs that suit their individual qualifications, personalities and future plans.