Your Guide to EMT Certification: What You Need to Jump Into Action

Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs) serve on the front lines of the health care profession. As first responders, it is their job to help save lives and reduce harm at the site of a medical emergency before transporting patients safely to a hospital. 

As the director of the Emergency Medical Services program at Colorado Northwestern Community College (CNCC), it’s Richard Nichols’ job to prepare students for this challenging but rewarding career. 

“EMTs have to make order out of chaos,” says Nichols. “The environment that we work in can change in an instant. One call will never be the same as another because patient complaints change, the environment changes, and even bystanders, who may or may not be helpful to the situation, change. We have to be able to function professionally with all of those types of distractions.”

What Makes a Good EMT?

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According to Nichols, a good EMT should be able to multitask, think quickly and be able to function professionally in a high-stress environment. 

“Physical fitness and good mental health are high priorities,” says Nichols. “Otherwise, they are going to end up as patients themselves, which we don’t recommend! We do go over wellness and stress management during the classes. We tell them to eat properly, do their exercises, and don't make EMS a 24/7 thing. They must have hobbies outside of work because we see things that the normal individual is not supposed to see and we need to be able to cope with that.” 

While most students join CNCC’s EMT certification program straight out of high school and the program does not require any other prior education, Nichols recommends students prepare themselves with “good study habits” due to the intensity of the program.

Entry Level EMT Training

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To qualify as an EMT, students must first pass a criminal background check before working towards their EMT certification.

CNCC offers students two certificate programs — the entry-level Emergency Medical Technical Occupational Certificate and the Advanced EMT Certificate (AEMT). Students also have the option to study for an Associate of Applied Science in Emergency Medical Services degree, as well as specific Professional Certification in areas such as Intravenous Therapy (IV) or Basic Electrocardiography (ECG).

“The Emergency Medical Technical Occupational Certificate is an entry level into the EMS industry," says Nichols. "It is where students learn to take care of medical trauma patients so that they have the best chance of survival. That includes providing care such as splinting, controlling bleeding, protecting the airway and identifying any critical conditions that need to be corrected prior to the patient getting to the hospital.” 

The EMT Occupational Certificate prepares students to take the National Registry Cognitive and Psychomotor exam which consists of a computer-based test followed by a hands-on exam. Once they pass this test, students can apply for state certification and can start working as an EMT with an ambulance service, fire department, hospital or other rescue services. The National Registry is recognized by 38 states, meaning that students can apply the skills they learn at CNCC to work across much of the United States.

There are also opportunities for EMTs outside of these traditional health care and emergency response settings. “EMTs are starting to be hired in other places,” says Nichols. “They can be found in factories, mines, and power plants, anywhere really where there are a lot of employees. It’s often seen as a more cost-effective way of getting health care into a company without having to go through nurses and doctors.”

Advanced EMT Training

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“The Advanced EMT Certificate is the second tier,” says Nichols. “Students do have to be certified as an EMT to enroll in the AEMT and we prefer that they have at least a year or two of experience at the EMT level before joining the program. This is an advanced program and we want the basic treatments and procedures to already be second nature to them when they start the class.” 

The AEMT allows EMTs to start giving patients fluids, draw lab work, start IVs, and provide some additional medications that stabilize a patient.

“The Associate of Applied Science in Emergency Medical Services is a degree program that takes students through both the EMT and AEMT levels and gets them better prepared for paramedicine if they are looking to make this a full-time career,” says Nichols.

Rural Emergency Medical Services

CNCC’s EMT certification programs are particularly focused on the training needs of providing emergency medical services in rural areas.

“In a big city an EMT may see the patient for a total of five minutes because they've got hospitals everywhere,” says Nichols. “In rural emergency medicine, you have to spend time with your patients. We may have a patient that we have to go get up on the mountain and stay with for an hour and a half. We’ve got to be able to treat the patient, watch how they are reacting and be able to adjust those treatments. Sometimes those patients will get better, sometimes they get worse. We need to be able to function in that kind of environment.”

Learn More

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Whether you choose to work in a big city environment or in a more rural area, the job prospects are good wherever you choose to launch your EMT career. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports a positive outlook for employment of EMTs and paramedics through 2028, projecting a 7% growth rate, faster than average for other occupations.

If you are in good physical shape, are adept at remaining calm under pressure and at dealing with the unexpected — and if being in a helping profession is at the top of your career agenda — becoming an EMT might be a perfect fit for you. To learn more about CNCC’s EMT certification programs, or to arrange a time to speak with a member of our faculty about attending EMT school, please visit the program page on our website.

Published October 23, 2020

About CNCC

Colorado Northwestern is one college in two Colorado communities. Depending on what you want to study, CNCC has the perfect surroundings and facilities to meet your needs. Founded in 1962 as “Rangely College,” CNCC now serves nearly 1,800 students on two campuses, two service centers and online. Our two campuses are located in Craig and Rangely and are 90 miles apart in the mountains and canyons of Northwestern Colorado.

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