Best EMT Certification Programs

Oct 27, 2021

What is an EMT Certificate Program?

An emergency medical technician (EMT) certificate program is a training program that prepares students to provide professional medical care in response to emergency calls.

EMTs, working from an ambulance, save lives in the event of natural disasters, workplace accidents, traffic accidents, and home emergencies. Although they are not degreed medical practitioners, certified EMTs are qualified medical personnel who treat injuries, trauma, shock, and other illnesses and symptoms en route to the hospital. Becoming an EMT can lead to a rewarding, meaningful career, albeit a tough and exhausting one.

EMT certificate programs must train individuals in every aspect of emergency medical services (EMS), including respiratory, cardiovascular, trauma, and obstetric/gynecological care. Individuals must also be prepared to administer aid to people of all ages, from infants to senior citizens, so the program covers those possibilities as well.

You must have at least a high school diploma or GED to enroll in an EMT certificate program, and the program itself is usually only about four months (16 weeks) long. The program sometimes includes CPR and first aid training as well as life support training in the areas mentioned above, but most programs require prior CPR certification and/or Basic Life Support (BLS) training.

Additionally, EMTs must renew their license every two years with the National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians via continuing education or taking a recertification exam. EMTs must also make sure to meet state-regulated license renewal requirements (which vary among states).

What is the Difference Between a Certificate and a Degree in EMS?

An EMS certificate program leads to certification as an EMT for the purpose of working in the field, i.e., responding to emergency calls. However, a degree program in EMS is designed to prepare students for leadership and administration in EMS agencies, hospitals, and other paramedicine communities or organizations. In other words, an EMS degree--whether associate, bachelor's, or master's--leads into a career where you'll operate out of an office, not an ambulance. Nonetheless, with a degree in EMS you can still choose the ambulance over administration if you wish; you simply must keep your EMT certification current if you want to keep practicing EMS in the field.

Should I Get a Certificate in EMS?

If you're interested in EMS but not sure about getting an EMT certificate, you may not be aware of the various options in EMS. Take a look at the levels of certification below to learn about the various levels of training in emergency medical services.

EMR Certification

With a very short course in immediate life-saving interventions lasting around 50 to 60 hours, you can become an emergency medical responder (EMR). After passing a state-approved psychomotor and cognitive test, you can find EMR courses available from the American Red Cross, the American Safety and Health Institute, and similar national organizations; or you can take a course from your local community college, university, community health organization, or another in-state program. After finishing the course, you'll need to take the National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians (NREMT) EMR exam and any other exams required by your state.

As an EMR, you will have limited training due to the brevity of the course, but you will come away with knowledge of CPR, emergency medical equipment (particularly Automatic External Defibrillators (AEDs)), and patient assessment. You will know what to do in the event of a heart attack (cardiac arrest), respiratory arrest, traumatic injury, and shock. While you won't be able to offer advanced care, you will be able to provide limited care until an EMT or paramedic is available to help.

EMR certification is for people who work in services like law enforcement or firefighting, or for anyone who wants to possess basic life-saving skills. The course is not designed for healthcare professionals and won't give you quite enough training to become an EMT. Think of an EMR certificate as bridging the gap between basic first aid and EMT training.

EMT Certification

EMT certification courses are longer than EMR courses, usually about four months as opposed to one week, and the courses train prospective EMTs in all the skills that EMRs learn, plus advanced training to respond to various types of emergency calls. Unlike EMRs, EMTs drive ambulances and operate with the tools that an ambulance provides. While an EMR may be qualified to respond to an emergency they witness in person, they don't respond to calls or transport patients in an ambulance. An EMT, however, is trained to receive calls, go to the scene, and provide in-transit care en route to the hospital, all with the use of an ambulance and its equipment. You'll also have noticed that EMTs have more extensive training in a greater variety of medical emergencies--for example, obstetrics and gynecology--and in emergency medical technology that can stabilize patients beyond the limited range of an EMR.

A certified EMT is also approved by the state after taking their state's approved licensure exam and the NREMT cognitive exam for EMTs.

Later, we'll discuss the three types of EMT: Basic, Intermediate, and Advanced.

Paramedic Certification

Although EMTs are often mistakenly equated with paramedics (EMT-Ps), there are extensive differences between them. Paramedics must first go through the training to become EMTs, then complete a 540-hour externship to gain experience in responding to real-life emergencies, and finally go to paramedic school, after which they may take the state licensing exam and the NREMT exam for paramedics.

For paramedics, education includes training in resuscitation, medication, EKG monitoring, communication, and ethical and legal aspects of emergency care, Thus, EMT-Ps are far more capable than EMTs when it comes to complex, high-risk situations, though in many cases EMTs are fully qualified to provide all the care that's needed before reaching the hospital.


To sum up, there are three main options for certification in EMS: EMR, EMT, and EMT-P.

Certification: EMR EMT (basic, entry-level) EMT (intermediate, with experience) EMT-P
Required prior training: CPR CPR CPR, EMT-B CPR, EMT-B, EMT-I
Total training time: 1-2 weeks 2 weeks (accelerated program) to 4 months 1+ years 2-3 years
Hourly pay (average): N/A (EMR is a certification, not a job title) $13.72 $15.01 $18.95

Career Options After Completing a Certificate Program in EMS

After completing a certificate program in EMS and earning an EMT license, the obvious career choice is to become what's known as an interfacility transport EMT, working from an ambulance to deliver emergency medical care en route to a hospital. However, education and experience as an EMT can lead to various careers in EMS and into the broader medical world as well.

EMS encompasses treatment from the moment the emergency call is made to the time the patient spends in the emergency room. That means that all personnel involved during that time are considered EMS workers and need EMS training, from the dispatcher who receives the call to the ER technician who receives the patient at the hospital.

Emergency Response Dispatcher

The job of the emergency dispatcher is to answer emergency calls and rank them in order of urgency while maintaining clear communication with the caller. After dispatching the appropriate personnel to the scene, whether EMTs, police, or firefighters, the dispatcher informs the caller of the appropriate steps to perform life-saving interventions or maintain the highest level of safety possible while awaiting professional help.

Average hourly pay for a police, fire, or ambulance dispatcher is $16.56, according to Payscale data.

Emergency Room Technician

An ER technician works as an assistant to an RN in a hospital emergency room performing jobs like writing reports or patient status updates; cleaning and preparing equipment; drawing blood; inserting IVs, catheters, and feeding tubes; and even resuscitating patients.

Should you choose to return to school or gain further certification, a job as an ER technician can be an excellent gateway to a career as an ER nurse, paramedic, physician assistant, or other another medical career. The average hourly pay for an ER technician is $15.30, according to Payscale data.

Flight Paramedic

To get a job as a flight paramedic, you'll have to advance beyond the EMT license and obtain a paramedic license. Flight paramedics must be prepared to take on the additional challenge of stabilizing patients in the air. These careers are rare and thus competitive, so you should do everything you can to finish your training program at the top of your class and gain as many field hours as you can.

Flight paramedics operate out of helicopters rather than ambulances. Some comparative studies have indicated that helicopter emergency medical services (HEMS) result in faster transportation times and thus may improve patient outcomes for those with cardiac arrest, traumatic injury, and other emergencies.

The average hourly pay for a flight paramedic is $22.97, according to Payscale data.

Continued Education After an EMT Certificate Program

After earning your EMT certificate, you may wish to continue to paramedic school in order to be eligible for the greater responsibility and higher pay of a paramedic. As a paramedic, you'll also have an array of exciting new job options available to you, like the flight paramedic job described above.

Another option for continued education is an associate or bachelor's degree in EMS or another medical field. With an EMS degree, you could become an administrator at an EMS agency. You could go to PA school and become a physician assistant, or earn your nursing license and become an ER nurse; you could even go to graduate school and become a physical therapist, a surgeon, or another type of doctor. Your EMT training gives you valuable knowledge of medical terminology and procedures that can serve you in any future medical studies.

Courses for a Certificate Program in EMT

An EMT program must cover the knowledge and techniques to assess and respond to a wide variety of life-threatening emergencies occurring in people of every age, including pregnant women, infants, and elderly people. Course names typically include

  • patient assessment
  • airway obstruction
  • cardiac and respiratory arrest
  • traumatic injuries and shock
  • breathing and resuscitation
  • medical emergencies
  • pharmacology
  • obstetrics and gynecological emergencies
  • elderly emergencies
  • infant emergencies

Some EMT programs, especially Basic or EMT-B programs, describe their programs as a single course. In those cases, you'll learn all of the same topics listed above but in a quick, compressed program. Instead of learning detailed information on each topic, you'll be getting more of a survey course that qualifies you to respond to a broad range of basic emergencies (thus the EMT-Basic certification title).

Respiratory Arrest

Respiratory arrest is one of the highest priority topics in EMT training. In this course, you'll learn the signs and symptoms of respiratory arrest or inadequate breathing. You'll also learn what medical conditions could be causing the problem and how to treat the problem based on a diagnosis. You'll finish the course knowing how to clear someone's airways, administer oxygen, help asthma sufferers recover from an attack, and more.

Traumatic Injuries and Shock

This course will cover signs and symptoms of shock and traumatic injuries, including external and internal bleeding, head injuries, cardiovascular conditions, allergic reactions, and more. You'll learn the different types or stages of shock and trauma conditions and what you can do at each stage. At the end of the course, you should be equipped with the knowledge of how to stabilize shock and trauma patients--these procedures mainly consist of various ways to control bleeding.

How Long Does an EMT Certificate Program Take?

An EMT certificate program usually takes about three to four months or 10-16 weeks; some programs may reckon by credits or credit hours, and most will be 10-16 credits or 120 to 160 hours. Field hours may vary, but a good estimate for time spent training in simulated situations (as opposed to taking notes in a classroom) is about 45 of those hours.

Factor in a day or two to get CPR certified if you're not already, since a CPR card is required by many programs before you can begin the EMT courses. CPR classes usually take between 30 minutes and two hours and cost roughly $35 to $80, depending on the organization offering the class and in what format it is offered (online or in person).

How to Choose an EMT Certificate Program

It should go without saying, but any EMT certificate program you choose should be accredited, as well as endorsed by your state, since you need a state license to practice as an EMT and program accreditation to ensure the quality of your training as a medical professional.

One of the most important things to know about EMT certificates is that they are divided into three classes: EMT-Basic, or EMT-B; EMT-Intermediate, or EMT-I; and AEMT, or Advanced EMT. Thus the first decision you need to make is what level of certification you wish to pursue. Your hourly pay tends to be higher the more education you have. With that decision, you're choosing how much time and money you want to expend on the program.


EMT-Basic programs are usually very quick, i.e. a matter of days or a few weeks. These programs are designed to give you basic knowledge of medical emergencies and the skills to treat them. You'll know how to respond to bleeding, broken bones, respiratory and cardiac emergencies, and obstetric-gynecological emergencies. However, you won't be qualified to administer medications, injections, or any invasive treatment.

Average hourly pay for an EMT-B is $13.72, according to Payscale data.


An EMT-Intermediate does all the things an EMT-B does and is additionally educated in the administration of medications and IVs, EKGs, and advanced life-saving devices. In some (but not all) states, they can administer medications.

Average hourly pay for an EMT-I is $15.01, according to Payscale data.


An AEMT has the training and qualifications of an EMT-I and is additionally trained and qualified to administer medications and fluids, including IVs and immunizations, as well as to use advanced medical equipment for limited life-saving interventions.

Average hourly pay for an AEMT is $14.53, according to Payscale data.

How to Get into EMT Certificate Programs

Getting into an EMT certificate program is a fairly simple process once you've determined which program you're applying to. However, admissions standards vary among programs and states. In most cases, applicants to EMS certificate programs should:

  • Have graduated high school or obtained a GED. This may not necessarily apply in every case since some programs accept applicants as young as 17 years old to the program.
  • Have completed CPR and/or BLS certification. Not all programs require this; some explicitly state that no prior training is required.
  • Be able to lift and carry at least 125 pounds and engage in other physical activity without difficulty. EMTs commonly bend, kneel, lift, stand, carry, walk, run, and drive throughout the day.
  • Have no mental and or physical concerns that would prevent them from performing the duties of the program or ensuing career as an EMT.
  • Provide a complete list of immunization records.
  • Pass a thorough drug screening and background check.

If you meet those requirements, you should be able to quickly and easily apply to an EMT certificate program in your area (EMS programs are practically ubiquitous due to the ever-present and growing need for qualified first responders).

Cost of an EMT Certificate Program

EMT certificate programs are very affordable, and while obtaining financial aid can be tricky, there are ways to fund your education so that the cost doesn't become overly burdensome.

First, the average EMT certificate program costs about $1,000 to $3,000, whether you take a short course (two weeks) or spread the classes out over a month or more. The more expensive programs usually incorporate various fees into that total; the cheaper programs may appear less pricey, but the associated fees are usually tacked on later, which brings your total cost up a bit.

Associated fees of an EMT certificate program include...

  • NREMT testing fee (varies; $70 to $100 is a good estimate)
  • State licensure exam fee (varies depending on the state, but $200 is a good estimate)
  • Fingerprints, drug screening, and background check fees (usually about $50 to $75)
  • Registration fees (vary)
  • Textbooks and materials fees (vary)
  • Other fees (could include immunizations, documents, uniforms, etc.)

Financial Aid and Scholarship Resources for EMT Certificate Programs

Emergency service members have some of the most important jobs in our society, and many individuals and organizations recognize and honor service members for their valuable work by financially supporting their or their children's education. Check out these scholarships that may apply (not an exhaustive list):

Additionally, if you have served in the military, law enforcement, or another service, you may be eligible for discounted tuition.

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