What Is an Emergency Medical Technician?

Medically Reviewed by Carol DerSarkissian, MD on July 10, 2023
2 min read

An emergency medical technician (EMT) is a medical professional who gives emergency care to people outside of or on the way to the hospital. They can give basic medical and first-aid care until a person can get help at a hospital or other medical facility.

An EMT is not a type of doctor, nurse, or physician’s assistant. They’re also different from paramedics, another type of emergency medical professional. The main difference is that paramedics have more training and can perform a wider variety of procedures. 

EMTs aren’t allowed to use any treatment that breaks the skin. There are a few exceptions, like giving an epinephrine injection to someone having a severe allergic reaction. Paramedics, however, often perform more invasive procedures like starting medication through a tube that goes into a vein, also called an IV.

EMTs work on ambulances, helping get people to the hospital. They may also work with fire departments and air rescue teams. EMTs can also work for private ambulance services.

In rural areas, EMTs connect people in isolated locations to medical treatment. In urban areas, they coordinate with larger hospital networks, local police, and fire departments to get people the best level of care.

Their main job is to respond to emergency calls, provide life-saving care wherever someone needs it, and then transport that person to the hospital. They may:

  • Respond to 911 calls
  • Assess a person’s condition in an emergency
  • Document what happened to them
  • Determine treatment they need
  • Provide emergency first aid
  • Give life support if needed
  • Bring people to the emergency department to receive medical care
  • Give the medical staff at the emergency department a detailed report on the person
  • Transport patients from one medical facility to another

EMTs must generally have a high school diploma or GED. They must also have CPR certification after a few hours of training with an organization like the American Red Cross or at a local hospital. Then, they must take an EMT course from an accredited institution. These courses are usually between 120 and 150 hours and take less than a year to complete. 

After completing EMT training, students must then take the National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians (NREMT) exam. Some states require EMTs to take a different test designed by that particular state. In order to drive an emergency vehicle, EMTs must also take an additional 8-hour course and get a special driver’s license.

After becoming certified as an emergency medical technician, EMTs can get more training to become an advanced EMT. Also called EMT-intermediates in some states, these professionals can do more in the field, like administer IV fluids and some medications. Advanced EMT training is about 400 hours.

The only reason you’d need help from an emergency medical technician is if you’re having a medical emergency, including: