How to Become an EMT in California

two male EMT's in front of ambulance looking into camera with slight smiles

Are you calm under pressure? Is helping others at the top of your career considerations? Are you interested in a job that is less than routine? You might make a great emergency medical technician (EMT), and if you live in California, you may be wondering how to become an EMT in California.

Most of us are familiar with the emergency procedures EMTs provide on the scene when every second counts — performing CPR on a patient after a heart attack or dressing a wound after a car accident.

But EMTs have many choices when it comes to choosing where to work, and with the proper training, an EMT can take their emergency medical services career in a variety of directions. There are numerous opportunities for advancement — especially in states like California, where certified EMTs can be found working in ambulance companies, hospitals, amusement, national parks, oil rigs, fire and/or police departments, SWAT, stadiums, special events, and more.

How to Become an EMT in California

When choosing between EMT schools in any state, keep in mind that EMTs must be certified by the National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians before they can begin work, and in order to take state and national certification exams ($98.00 exam fee in California as of December of 2022), you must earn your credentials from an accredited EMT school. Both of National University’s EMT/EMS programs are accredited; that’s an important consideration when you are looking into becoming an EMT and choosing an educational program.

Becoming an EMT in California

Because of the hands-on nature of the job, EMT courses are not usually offered online. It’s not surprising that approximately 90 percent of people who pursue careers in emergency medicine are kinesthetic learners — they learn more by carrying out physical day-to-day activities rather than listening to demos and lectures. This led Cody Rogers, EMS coordinator, with the County of San Diego to develop an integrated “hands-on” approach in how National University’s EMT training is delivered.

“The professional trajectory of an emergency medical technician is rarely from Point A to Point B,” says Rogers. “There are a variety of jobs hiring a wide range of medical backgrounds, but it all starts with getting your EMT certificate. That’s where we come in.”

Learn more about National University’s continuing education offerings for California Emergency Medical Services.

Becoming an EMT: What Makes National University Different?

The EMT program at National is built around comprehensive lesson plans that focus on helping students achieve their personal goals, allowing them to apply what is learned in class to the career areas that interest them most. Rogers’ goal is to provide an EMS umbrella of programs as a one-stop-shop of skilled students ready for employment. With this in mind, he aims to broaden horizons for students “before, during, and after” EMT course completion.

“We offer a free open house to anyone wanting to learn about becoming an EMT in California — there’s no commitment, just cookies,” jokes Rogers.

After years at the helm, Rogers still believes the EMT/EMS program’s adaptive quality is one of NU’s competitive advantages, unmatched by other training choices. His innovative predecessor worked to ensure that students could take the EMT program as a standalone credit course, or as one of the mapped healthcare “pillars” on their way to their ultimate dream job.

“We often call our EMT certification course a ‘gateway program’ because it leads students to numerous EMS and allied health professions such as PA and nursing school, or to learn about critical techniques needed for the ICU, or for working as helicopter paramedics,” says Rogers.

Clearly, another advantage of NU’s program is Rogers himself. His own career trajectory from being a high school graduate taking night school classes to later serving as a firefighter, an EMT, and a paramedic allows him to share many valuable insights gained on-the-job. And he’s not alone in understanding what it takes to be successful in the emergency medical field. His alternating team of more than 42 adjunct instructors (statewide) have all exceeded the minimum teaching standards, having served as EMTs for at least two years before teaching others.

“It’s no wonder our students are inspired to do great things — our instructors are all shining examples of how hard work pays off, which is why every single one gets rave reviews on their end-of-course surveys,” says Rogers.

“That’s our philosophy; it’s not enough to offer standard course requirements for certification, our instructors also share and apply personal experience from the field with their students and have even been known to help them afterward with job recommendations and guidance,” adds Rogers. “In light of wanting to support students even after they finish the emergency medical technician program, alumni receive a 25% discount for any of the eight EMS continuing education courses offered which helps build their knowledge-base and bolster student resumes for job attainment.”

Once a National University EMT student is finished and registered, they have access to a short, 16-hour EMT pre-employment workshop, as well as phone recommendations when ambulance companies come calling for new recruits. “Even after certification, we’re dedicated to helping students get the resources they need,” says Rogers.

With all the types of terrain found in California — desert, ocean, forests, highly-populated cities, rural farming counties — Rogers says you are likely to run into a National University EMT program alum working almost anywhere. “One of our EMS program coordinators was once our student. Another student finished the program and now he’s a medic on an oil rig in the middle of the  Gulf of Mexico; another drives an off-road vehicle around Big Sur National Park as a wilderness EMT,” comments Rogers. “Typically, geographic location dictates the level of an EMT’s scope of practice and specific daily functions, so choose wisely based on your preference.”

In line with trying to make entry requirements as streamlined and easy as possible for students, National University’s EMT program includes the pre-requisite CPR certification within the course. Class sizes vary, but most are capped at around 20 students to ensure a personalized learning experience.

“If someone is comparing our program against another based on price alone, we suggest they list out all the known items they’ll receive with our all-inclusive pricing versus the hidden costs of some of the other ‘rinse and repeat’ programs out there. With NU, you’ll get your course uniform, a choice of day or night classes, your choice of on-site locations, student resource book, online learning platforms, and so much more. Honestly, the only thing we can’t include is the fee to take your written national registry test!”

a female EMT in California

How Long Does It Take to Become an EMT?

Every two months, National University kicks-off another standalone EMT course set. “Instructor variety,” versus having the same teacher for the duration of the program, is something that National students have singled out as a big plus. It typically takes 12 weeks to finish the program, unless you choose the accelerated eight-week class option to earn your certificate faster. (In contrast, traditional EMT programs can take up to 16 weeks to complete.)

As a student in the program, you can choose between day or evening classes at any of the four locations. You’ll learn basic anatomy and physiology relevant to serving as an emergency medical technician, with an emphasis on the nervous system, cardiovascular, and respiratory systems. You’ll roll up your sleeves and learn how to care for the sick and injured, including dealing with communicable diseases and trauma. You’ll also learn the practical skills of basic life support (BLS) including cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) techniques, taking blood pressure, pulse, and respiratory rates, assessing lung sounds, completing detailed trauma and medical assessments, and administering the eight medications that fall under the EMT scope of practice for emergency care.

How Much do EMTs Make in California?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics, the median annual wage for emergency medical technicians (EMTs) in California was between $42,420 and $55,620 depending on the county as of May 2021. The BLS report also indicates the projected average growth rate for EMTs over the next ten years will be seven percent. Slightly higher than the average five percent growth rate for all occupations.

Is There a Difference Between an EMT and a Paramedic?

Although many people think of EMTs and paramedics interchangeably, they’re actually two separate jobs. Becoming an EMT is the first step to a career in emergency medical services. The study of paramedics is a more advanced second step involving additional training and expansion in patient care knowledge and responsibility, such as administering medications in the field. For this reason, the length of time and study to become a paramedic takes considerably longer, close to 9 to 14 months, unlike the relatively quick path to achieving an EMT certificate in only 6 to 16 weeks, on average.

About National University

Since its inception in 1971, National University has pioneered new approaches to serving adult learners, working professionals, and Veterans with programs available online and at its many on-site locations.

This post was updated on December 12th, 2022 to allow for the most up-to-date information.

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