What Is a Paramedic?

Medically Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on July 17, 2023
3 min read

A paramedic is a medical professional who specializes in emergency treatment. They are not doctors, nurses, or physician's assistants.

The word paramedic is a combination of two terms. "Para" means next to, and "medic" means doctor. So it means that paramedics work alongside doctors, though not always physically. They can provide life-saving treatment for someone until they can get to a doctor. 

Paramedics are not Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs), though many EMTs become paramedics. EMTs have the skills to stabilize and transport people who call for emergency medical care. They can use basic equipment in an ambulance. But they aren’t allowed to give treatments that break the skin, with a few exceptions.

Paramedics have more training and can provide more advanced emergency medical care. They can use basic and advanced equipment on ambulances. In their training, they can learn how to start intravenous lines (IVs) and manage compromised airways. 

Paramedics primarily work in emergency rooms and ambulances where they treat people with urgent problems. They may also work in specific settings, such as:

  • On cruise ships
  • On oil-drilling platforms
  • In air rescue transport
  • On ocean rescue teams
  • At special events like music festivals
  • On S.W.A.T. teams
  • On firefighting teams

Paramedics work on teams that respond to medical emergencies. They work under the supervision of a doctor, though the doctor is usually not on site. They may communicate with a doctor via phone, radio, or pre-written orders.

Paramedics also make some decisions about patient care and supervise the other members of their team who have less training, like EMTs. 

On calls, paramedics may:

  • Do CPR
  • Use a defibrillator
  • Give IV medication
  • Clear airways
  • Give someone a tracheotomy
  • Use mechanical breathing devices
  • Do basic medical tests
  • Interpret the results of the tests
  • Give antidotes to drug overdose or poisoning
  • Monitor the person who is sick during the trip to the hospital or to the doctor
  • Interpret patient data on monitoring equipment
  • Communicate with supervising doctor
  • Provide a detailed account of the person's condition to the doctor upon arrival

To start paramedic training, you have to have a high school diploma or equivalent and CPR certification. In some states, you may need an associate's degree to start paramedic training.

Some paramedic training programs require you to have EMT certification. Some specific programs may have other requirements, like prerequisite classes. Each program is different, and each state also has different requirements for becoming a paramedic.

Paramedics can get at least 1,200 hours of training. Some programs go up to 1,800 hours.  

After completing training, you take an exam required by your state. This may be the National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians (NREMT) Paramedic exam. But some states have their own exam. You must then apply for certification within two years of passing the exam.

The only reason to see a paramedic is if you require emergency medical treatment. Examples of conditions paramedics can help with include: