How Long Does It Take To Become a Paramedic? Expert Advice

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If you’re thinking about becoming a paramedic, then you’ll need to start as an EMT, but how long does it take for you to transition to a full paramedic once you’ve become a qualified EMT? Is it possible to speed this up or should you take your time? Here’s what you need to know about this vitally important career journey. 

It is possible to go from EMT to Paramedic in as little as 12 months, however, most will take closer to 3 years. This ensures they have enough experience to excel with the added responsibilities as a Paramedic.  

In this article, we will talk about the difference between EMT basics and Paramedics, what you will learn as a Paramedic and how challenging paramedic school is.

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Also read: Can You Live Off an EMT/Paramedic Salary?

What’s The Difference Between A Paramedic And An EMT?

EMTs and Paramedics

An EMT, (Emergency Medical Technician), is a provider of prehospital emergency medicine.

EMT-basic, the first level or EMT, can perform basic life-saving procedures, but not all the advanced skills of a paramedic.

An EMT is qualified to:

  • Deliver basic standards of medical care at the scene of an emergency such as stopping external bleeding and bandaging
  • Administer CPR (Basic Life Support)
  • Work for various emergency service agencies as a first responder to medical emergencies including in hospitals, ambulance services, fire services, and police services

A paramedic’s job is the most skilled in the emergency medicine chain outside of the hospital care provision.

They are able to carry out the most advanced life support techniques, are taught how to perform invasive techniques (such as inserting IVs or managing the airways effectively) and how to provide and administer certain medications to their patients.

On top of these responsibilities, a paramedic is meant to be able to manage a scene and they will need to help deal with the emotional state of bystanders, relatives, etc. and manage any environmental risks to the patient and other emergency responders on the scene. 

Thus, a paramedic can also:

  • Deliver advanced standard of medical care (ALS) at the scene of an emergency such as setting up and inserting an IV or administering medications
  • Administer advanced resuscitation techniques and use ventilation devices to support the patient’s efforts to breathe

This video talks more about the differences between EMTs and Paramedics to help you decide which is right for you:

Also read: Do Paramedics Make More Money Than Nurses? [Salaries] and The Difference Between EMT And Paramedic? 

How Long Should You Be An EMT Before You Become A Paramedic?

There is no official waiting period between the time you qualify as an EMT and the time you decide to undertake a program of study for becoming a paramedic.

This does not mean, however, that the majority of EMTs rush to get their paramedic certification.

An EMT course requires approximately 110-150 hours of training in order for them to obtain their college’s certification as an EMT. In addition, an EMT will then be required to take and pass the National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians (NREMT) exam and unless this is passed, they cannot work as an EMT.

What an EMT course does not provide, however, is enough practical experience in order to feel truly confident in the lessons that you have learned.

This means that many EMTs will want to gain that experience before they move on.

As such, the majority will choose to work for 2 years as an EMT prior to pursuing their paramedic qualifications.

It’s worth noting that many paramedic schools (but not all of them) will not accept any students who have less than 6 months of field experience as an EMT – so even if you are a fast learner, it can pay to get that practical experience. 

Also read: How to Become an EMT: Expert Guide and What Is The Age Limit To Be A Paramedic/EMT?

Is Paramedic School Hard To Get Into?

It’s fair to say that while it’s not an automatic acceptance – as long as you have completed the pre-requisite courses.

These may include:

  • English to college standard
  • Human biology
  • Medical terminology
  • Algebra
  • May also require work experience as an EMT Basic

Each paramedic school has its own unique application process, but these are not designed to trip you up or make your passage on to the course challenging, but rather to satisfy whatever bureaucratic requirements your chosen learning provider has.

Just make sure to pay attention to the details and be truthful and you’ll be fine with this. 

You must also have:

  • Driver’s license
  • CPR certification
  • Health insurance
  • Copies of your immunization records
  • You will have to consent to a background check as well as a pre-course drug screening

However, don’t think that this means paramedic school is going to be an easy ride, it’s not.

The easy thing is to get into paramedic school, the tough part is staying there.

You’re going to spend at least 1,200 hours in the classroom and then spend hundreds of more hours in practical training (which include ride-alongs, working in hospitals and on the ambulance, etc.) to be able to pass the examination.

You’re also going to need to have around $5000 to $15,000 to spend on books, equipment, uniforms, etc. and you’ll want to have this in the bank before you apply. Though there are grants and payment programs usually offered to assist with the cost.

Most paramedic students report that they end up working for 40-something hours a week on their studies, in addition to the classroom time and practical sessions!

It is tough to work while going through your paramedic school training, though it is possible. I was able to do it, but it made for a busy, stressful year of training.

Also read: Can An EMT/Paramedic Work As A Phlebotomist?

What Do You Learn At Paramedic School?

The basic standards for paramedics are laid down by the NREMT but there is plenty of latitude for individual colleges to provide additional opportunities and give their own unique feel to the program.

The Basics are:

  • Didactic – Theory, Labs, and Lectures (about 600 hours): Here you are taught by paramedics with real-world experience and you get the chance to learn new emergency medicine techniques and to put them into practice on dummies and each other.
  • Supervised practice: Critical techniques such as intubation will require that you perform them over and over again successfully under the watch of your preceptor or instructor to ensure that you are getting everything right.
  • Clinical Internship (about 200 hours): You’ll also need to spend 600 to 1,200 hours gaining some clinical practice and you will have a range of experiences both in the hospital and working as an intern on an ambulance.
  • Field internship (480 to 720 hours): Time to get in an ambulance and work with paramedics. You won’t be expected to be a master of your craft here, but you will be expected to be a valuable pair of extra hands and you should, by now, have all the theory under your belt.

Below is an example of a highly rated Paramedic program in my area. Their website has lots of good info to understand the process. Foothill College Paramedic Program

To help to get you prepared for paramedic school, watch this video:

Also read: Do Paramedics/EMTs Get Drug Tested? How Often?

How Long Is Paramedic School?

Paramedic school takes 6 to 18 months to complete.

Each program may schedule the training differently. A common schedule will have 16 hours of classes each week, up to 36 hours of clinical practice, and many, many hours of self-study each week too.

This means that it can feel even longer than it is and you will probably have to give up most of your social life while you are studying.

Also read: 7 Reasons Why EMTs and Paramedics Are Important? [Expert Opinion]


How long does it take to go from EMT to paramedic? You could spend as little as 6 months doing practical experience as an EMT (in fact, you might be able to find a course with no experience at all – but we’d strongly recommend against this, developing your EMT skills fully is a big advantage for paramedic students). 

Then you could spend as little as 9 months at college to qualify. But, in reality, most people will take a couple of years of real-life experience before attending college and then they will want another 12-18 months to complete their program of study. This is the route that is most likely to produce a well-rounded and successful paramedic in the majority of cases. 

Related Articles:

Is The EMT State Exam/Test (NREMT) Hard To Pass?

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Firefighter vs Nurse: Which Job Is Better?

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