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What is a Paramedic?

The paramedic is an allied health professional whose primary focus is to provide advanced emergency medical care for critical and emergent patients who access the Emergency Medical System (EMS). This individual possesses the complex knowledge and skills necessary to provide patient care and transportation. Paramedics function as part of a comprehensive EMS response, under medical oversight. Paramedics perform interventions with the basic and advanced equipment typically found on an ambulance. The paramedic is a link from the scene into the health care system. Because of the amount of complex decision making, one of the eligibility requirements for licensure requires successful completion of a nationally accredited Paramedic program at the certificate or associates degree level.

The education and skills required of paramedics vary by state. The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) designs and specifies a National Standard Curriculum\for EMT training. Most paramedic education and certifying programs require that a student is at a minimum educated and trained to the National Standard Curriculum for a particular skill level. The National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians (NREMT) is a private, central certifying entity whose primary purpose is to maintain a national standard. NREMT also provides certification information for paramedics who relocate to another state.

Paramedic education programs can be as short as 8 months or as long as 4 years. An Associate's degree program is 2 years, often administered through a community college. Degree programs are an option, with two year Associate's degree programs being most common, although four year Bachelor's degree programs exist. The institutions offering such training vary greatly across the country in terms of programs and requirements, and each must be examined by the prospective student in terms of both content and requirements where the prospective paramedic hopes to practice. Regardless of education, all students must meet the same state requirements to take the certification exams, including the National Registry exams. In addition, most locales require that paramedics attend ongoing refresher courses and continuing medical education to maintain their license or certification. In addition to state and national registry certifications, most paramedics are required to be certified in Pediatric Advanced Life Support, Pediatric Prehospital care or Pediatric Emergencies for the Prehospital Provider; Prehospital Trauma Life Support; International Trauma Life Support; and Advanced Cardiac Life Support. These additional requirements have education and certification from organizations such as the American Heart Association.


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Paramedics are employed by various public and private emergency service providers. These include private ambulance services, fire departments public safety or police departments, hospitals, law enforcement agencies, the military, and municipal EMS agencies in addition to and independent from police or fire departments, also known as a 'third service'. Paramedics may respond to medical incidents in an ambulance, rescue vehicle, helicopter, fixed-wing aircraft, motorcycle, or fire suppression apparatus.

Paramedics may also be employed in medical fields that do not involve transportation of patients. Such positions include offshore drilling platforms, phlebotomy, blood banks, research labs, educational fields, law enforcement and hospitals.

Aside from their traditional roles, paramedics may also participate in one of many specialty arenas:

  • Critical care transporters move patients by ground ambulance or aircraft between medical treatment facilities. This may be done to allow a patient to receive a higher level of care in a more specialized facility. Registered Nurses with training in critical care medicine may work side-by-side with paramedics in these settings. Paramedics participating in this role generally also provide care not traditionally administered by Paramedics who respond to 911 calls. Examples of this are blood transfusions, intra-aortic balloon pumps and mechanical ventilators.

  • Tactical paramedics work on law enforcement teams (SWAT). These medics, usually from the EMS agency in the area, are commissioned and trained to be tactical operators in law enforcement, in addition to paramedic duties. Advanced medical personnel perform dual roles as operator and medic on the teams. Such an officer is immediately available to deliver advanced emergency care to other injured officers, suspects, innocent victims and bystanders. The advantage to having dual role paramedics is that medical care is provided almost immediately.

  • In-Hospital paramedics are increasingly employed in hospital emergency departments and intensive care units. With their specialized training, in emergent situations, paramedics are generally accustomed to practicing with greater latitude and autonomy. This training emphasizes discretionary decisions and treatment without mandatory physician consultation.

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