Students in paramedic programs need to have an aptitude for medicine and
the ability to stay cool under pressure. This is an intense program that leads
to a fulfilling career.
Paramedic programs are offered in a wide variety of settings, from medical
centers to community colleges.
The length of programs often varies widely as well. At Hennepin County
Medical Center in Minneapolis, emergency medical services education manager
Judy Flavin reports that students in the EMT (emergency medical technician)
basic program spend around 130 hours in the classroom and in skills practice,
including an eight-hour ride in the ambulance.
Most programs range from one semester to two years. The best jobs, though,
go to the most qualified, and that usually means more time in school.
Admission requirements vary widely. Some colleges admit students
on a first-come, first-served basis. Others have rigorous entrance standards
that include written tests and high school prerequisites.
At Wallace Community College in Alabama, candidates for the EMT basic program
must be 18 years old, possess a valid driver's license and possess a high
school diploma or GED. Requirements become stricter if a student passes the
EMT basic and wishes to progress to EMT intermediate or EMT paramedic, says
Fred Pich, the program chair.
Jim Whittle, head of the paramedic department at a community college, says
applicants must also write an entrance exam that tests their math, reading
and problem-solving skills.
Students learn about the use of emergency equipment such as backboards
and oxygen delivery systems. They also get instruction and practice in
dealing with a variety of emergency situations, from childbirth to cardiac
arrest to trauma.
Courses in communications and psychology are also offered in many
programs, since a large part of a paramedic's job consists of dealing with
the public. Because of the physical nature of paramedic medicine, physical
education courses are often part of paramedic programs. Whittle's program
has a physical fitness requirement for graduation.
On-the-job training is part of most programs and includes time in
hospital emergency rooms and on ambulances. Much of this training takes place
at night and on weekends.
Students must be dedicated and motivated -- the programs are often very
intense. Long hours are required of these students, so they should
have more than just a passing interest in the program, says Whittle.
Competition for spots in these courses is often fierce. Applicants can
set themselves ahead of the pack by concentrating on the sciences in high
school and by having good reading comprehension skills. Physical fitness
is also helpful, since heavy lifting and good physical stamina is often expected
Volunteering in a hospital or taking high school credits in emergency medicine
can also help.
In most places, continuing education and re-registration (usually every
two years) is required of working paramedics.
Occupational Outlook Handbook
For more information related to this field of study, see: Emergency
Medical Technicians and Paramedics
The American Red Cross
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