I had no idea what an Emergency Medical Technician was or what’s included in an EMT job description. I never really thought about who worked in ambulances and I definitely didn’t know the difference between EMTs and paramedics. What do EMTs do was a question that had never even crossed my mind… until I became one.
This is going to be an in-depth answer to the question “What do EMTs do?“. If you are interested in a quick overview about emergency medical technicians and a summarized EMT job description, check out What is an EMT.
What Do EMTs Do?
On this page you will find an explanation of the EMT job description, including a list of EMT responsibilities commonly performed at work along with skills that EMTs are trained in. Scroll to the bottom and you will find an example of A Day in the Life of an EMT which will give you an idea of what goes on before, during and after an average EMT call.
Important tip: EMTs can not do the same tasks everywhere.
Ask what do EMTs do in Utah and what does an EMT do in California and you will get different answers. State and even counties within a state can set their own standards for what emergency medical technicians are allowed to do. For this reason, EMT job descriptions can vary widely throughout the United States.
For an example of this check out our EMT training in Nevada page. Clark County, which includes Las Vegas, has separate EMT training standards than the rest of Nevada.
This article discusses many common EMT skills and responsibilities, but what specifically is allowed in your area may be different from what is described here. For example, basic EMTs in most areas are not allowed to insert IV’s into patients, but there are some places that allow basic EMTs to start IVs once they receive proper training.
Make sure you are familiar with the EMT protocols for your area before beginning a new job.
Not all EMTs work on an ambulance, but it is a common job for emergency medical technicians. For information on other jobs available to EMTs, check out the EMT jobs page. You can also look up local job listings online and read the EMT job description for each one.
When answering what do EMTs do? It’s only natural to bring up the common procedures and skills used while working on an ambulance. However, if you want to work in healthcare and you’re not interested in ambulance work, be assured there are other options available to EMTs.
What Does an EMT Do – EMT Job Description
An EMT job description may state that Emergency medical technicians assess patients, provide emergency care to the sick and injured, and transport patients when appropriate. EMTs will also constantly reassess patients during transport and perform additional interventions as needed.
They become experts at assessing patients, taking vitals and performing interventions like wound care, CPR, bleeding control and oxygen administration. Some common assessment techniques the EMT will use are the ABC’s, primary survey, secondary assessment, SAMPLE history and OPQRST pain assessment.
What Do EMTs Do – Explained
1. The ambulance is the domain of the EMT. When working as an EMT, you will need to check the rig at the beginning of each shift. This usually means checking and stocking all the medical supplies in the back and making sure the ambulance is in proper operating condition. For example, my job had a checklist with headlights, horn, lights, siren, etc that my partner and I had to confirm during our shift.
I was in charge of the medical supply checklists (cabinets, bags, kits, drawers, etc.) because I always handled patient care. My partners did the mechanical checks because they always drove the ambulance. Generally it should take about 10 minutes to check for missing items and restock anything that is needed.
The EMT job description includes maintaining all equipment and keeping the ambulance in operating condition throughout your shift. EMTs must wipe down the rig, sanitize the equipment and restock all supplies as needed after each call.
There is no one watching over you every minute, when you become an EMT in the field. You are autonomous and have to police yourself and be disciplined enough to do a good job.
2. EMTs are an important part of the emergency care team and must work with other medical professionals. Emergency medical technicians will constantly be communicating with other healthcare professionals. This includes paramedics, nurses and doctors. It’s important to represent yourself well and communicate professionally.
EMTs will give verbal reports frequently and need to take good written notes because all paperwork will stay in the patient’s medical record. The EMT should use appropriate medical terminology when communicating with other healthcare professionals and while documenting patient care.
3. EMTs are trained to assess and treat both medical and trauma patients. An EMT can control bleeding, manage respiratory distress, immobilize fractures, assist with childbirth, and treat cardiac events.
While providing emergency care the EMT can maintain the patient’s airway, apply oxygen, ventilate the patient, perform CPR and use an automated external defibrillator if appropriate. Emergency medical technicians commonly respond to motor vehicle accidents, falls, cardiac arrests, accidents, bone fractures, and septic patients.
4. Being an EMT involves frequent moving, lifting and carrying of patients. Working as an EMT is a physical job that often requires a lot of exercise. It’s important to use good body mechanics when transporting patients on and off the stretcher and when moving patients from one location to the next. There will be downtime when working as an EMT with excitement in between.
5. EMTs may be the highest out of hospital care available. In some areas, there are no paramedics available and emergency medical technicians are the highest level of care outside of the hospital. An example of this is rural areas. Emergency medical technicians may have an expanded scope of practice in these areas which allows them to perform extra skills since they are the only emergency provider.
6. EMTs don’t just deal with the ambulance and patient care. If there are no law enforcement present, the EMT may need to get involved in traffic control. EMTs will do what is necessary to provide a safe environment for injured patients and passing vehicles. They may need to remove debris, place road flares and direct traffic to protect the injured or to protect other EMS who are treating patients.
What Do EMTs Do – Skills
Now that you know a basic answer to the question: What do EMTs do?
Lets talk about the specific EMT skills and job duties that emergency medical technicians can do. Here is the EMT job description formatted as a list of assessments and interventions that most EMTs are trained and certified to do.
Some of these are done daily by EMTs in the field. This list is proof that EMTs are not just ambulance drivers, as they are sometimes called. They are trained and licensed to provide treatments and transportation to acute and critical patients in the prehospital environment.
(This is an EMT job description list, not a step by step guide on how to respond to emergency situations.)
What Does an EMT Do For Respiratory Patients?
1. Open and maintain an airway.
2. Ventilate patients.
3. Administer oxygen (O2) therapy.
4. Performing upper airway suctioning.
5. Insert oropharynx or nasopharynx airways.
6. Use of humidifier with oxygen therapy
7. Manage respiratory issues.
EMTs can open and maintain the airway using:
• Sellick’s Maneuver
• Head-tilt chin lift
• Jaw thrust
• Modified chin lift
EMTs can ventilate patients using:
• Bag Valve Mask
• Manually Triggered Ventilator (MTV)
• Automatic Transport Ventilator (ATV)
EMTs can administer O2 therapy using:
• Nasal cannulas
• Non-rebreather face masks
• Partial rebreathers
• Venturi masks
What Does an EMT Do For Cardiac Arrest?
1. Perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR).
2. Use automated external defibrillators (AED).
3. Get patient early access to ACLS.
What Do EMTs Do – Vital Signs
EMTs will take vital signs on all patients in their care. They will perform an assessment that includes taking a blood pressure, pulse, respirations and skin signs. Emergency medical technicians will also frequently take a patient’s pulse oximetry and temperature.
What Do EMTs Do – Medications
EMTs can administer these medications:
1. Activated charcoal
3. Oral glucose
5. Naloxone is being added in many states due to opioid overdoses.
EMT’s can also assist patients with their own prescribed medications and with physician approved OTC medications. This includes:
• Epinephrine auto-injectors
• Hand-held aerosol inhalers
• Sublingual nitroglycerin
What Does an EMT Do For Medical & Trauma Patients?
1. Bandage wounds.
2. Control hemorrhage.
3. Use of extremity splinting, traction splinting, tourniquets to immobilize fractures.
4. Eye irrigation.
5. Application and inflation of the: pneumatic anti-shock garment (PASG) or Military Anti-shock Trousers (MAST).
6. Assist with childbirth – normal & complicated deliveries.
7. Treat poisonings.
8. Rapid extrication.
9. Spinal immobilization and cervical collar placement.
10. Treat shock & hypoperfusion.
12. Safe patient extraction as needed.
Common EMT skills include responding to: allergic, behavioral, cardiac, diabetic, and environmental emergencies.
What Do EMTs Do For Safety?
1. Always determine scene safety
2. Use proper personal protective equipment at all times
3. Request additional resources
4. When there are no police present, the EMT may need to:
→ Create a safe environment for patients and rescuers.
→ Direct traffic to protect the injured and first responders.
→ Place road flares.
→ Remove debris.
A Day in the Life of an EMT
This is not a listed EMT job description, but A day in the live of an EMT does give you a good idea of what EMTs do while on duty. Read below to get a realistic idea of how an average call goes on an average day.
As an EMT you know where everything is in your ambulance. You know that it’s stocked because you check the ambulance at the beginning of your shift and after each patient. The same goes for gasoline and everything else involving your rig. There are no excuses for running out of gloves or any other needed supplies.
After all, the patient is not going to be ok with swinging by the gas station on the way to the hospital. Luckily, EMTs get skilled at checking the cabinets, oxygen, bags, drugs, kits and everything else in about 10 minutes.
EMTs respond to an emergency call by driving the ambulance to a location given to you by your dispatcher. It’s the EMTs job to know the best route, keeping traffic, time of day, weather conditions and road work in mind.
EMT responsibilities include knowing and obeying all traffic regulations for emergency vehicles.
Upon arrival at the scene, it’s the EMTs responsibility to park the ambulance in a safe place. You will also need to carry a bunch of equipment to the location of the patient.
What you carry depends on what is needed for the call, but usually you will need an oxygen tank, supply bag, and a device for transporting the patient.
Next the EMT will perform a quick scene size up and decide whether the scene is safe, how many patients are present, and what the mechanism of injury or nature of illness is.
At this point the EMT will call for additional resources if they are needed. For example they can call for an ALS unit or a Fire unit. By now the EMT will have an idea what the priority for treatment is and they can begin assessing and treating the patient.
Being an EMT requires that you work in a confident, efficient and professional manner that puts patients and family at ease. EMT skills must be done quickly, but this is no excuse for making mistakes or being rude to bystanders.
Emergency medical technicians will perform interventions based on assessment findings and transport the patient when appropriate.
At this point the EMTs will use the correct equipment and body mechanics to lift and move the patient from the scene into the ambulance. It’s common for both EMTs to lift or roll the patient onto the stretcher, secure the patient to the stretcher, and then lift and slide the stretcher into the ambulance.
Once the stretcher is secured to the ambulance, the patient is ready for transport and one EMT can remain in back providing emergency medical treatments while the other one drives.
The EMT must determine what facility is most appropriate for their patient. They will consider how stable the patient is, the extent of the patient’s injuries, along with the location and staffing of emergency hospitals in the area. It’s also possible that dispatch will tell the EMTs which hospital to proceed to.
After determining where the patient is going, the EMT will call the Emergency Department (ED) and give them a verbal report about the patient’s condition.
The report will usually include details about the number of patients, the patient’s condition or injuries, any special resources that the patient will need immediately, significant treatments you have administered, and expected time until arrival.
The first responder will use their EMT skills to continuously assess and care for the patient while en route to the receiving facility. This includes filling out the patient paperwork so there is an accurate record of the patient’s condition while under your care.
Upon arrival at the ED it’s the EMTs responsibility to transport the patient from the ambulance into the ED and give a verbal report to the receiving staff member.
EMTs don’t just dump the patient and run.
They are responsible for transferring the patient off their stretcher, and it’s not uncommon for the EMT to help the ED staff with tasks when asked.
After the call the EMTs still need to do a couple of things before they can clear themselves to take another call. The linens, blankets and any other supplies need to be removed. The EMT will clean everything using the appropriate disinfecting techniques and then they can put on clean linens and blankets for the next patient.
The EMT job description also includes restocking the cabinets with any supplies that were used during the call. Special decontamination of the full interior has to be done after patients with a contagious disease or haz mat exposures.
Working as an EMT is not easy. It requires schooling, the EMT job description is long, and EMTS must have the ability to treat patients in difficult circumstances. For more information about EMTs check out:
Christina Beutler is the creator of EMT Training Base. She is a former EMT and a current Registered Nurse. Christina’s path changed after taking a Basic First Aid class while in Community College, and a career in healthcare opened up. Working as an Emergency Medical Technician led to a passion for nursing and a job working in the Intensive Care Unit and Critical Care Unit right out of Nursing School. To learn more about Christina’s story, head over to the About page.