Emergency medical technicians (EMTs) and paramedics are responsible for responding to emergency calls, performing basic life-saving medical services on the scene, and then transporting patients to medical facilities for further evaluation and care. Since the work can be physically stressful and involve life-or-death scenarios, it is important for people interested in an emergency medicine career to understand the essential skills required for the job.
The emergency medicine field is expected to grow by 11% over the next decade, which is faster than average job growth. There are three levels of EMTs and each level requires certification at either the state or national level:
- EMT-Basic: Provides non-invasive interventions with minimal equipment to stabilize patients on the scene and during transport to the hospital.
- EMT-Intermediate/Advanced: Provides the same services as EMT-Basic, as well as administers fluids and some medications.
- Paramedic: Provides advanced medical care for critical patients through the use of more sophisticated equipment and administration of about 30 different drugs.
All EMTs, Basic through Paramedic, are required to master critical clinical skills. Beyond the medical skills that help save lives during emergencies, EMTs must also have several soft skills. These are skills that help EMTs excel at their job, but they cannot necessarily be taught in a classroom setting.
This list of EMT clinical and soft skills was compiled from several resources, including EMT training websites, emergency medical services (EMS) job listings, and experiences shared by EMTs. Continue reading to learn more about the skills and how to acquire them.
Top Soft EMT Skills
Soft skills are personal attributes that enable someone to interact with colleagues and excel at their job. While these skills are not necessarily taught, having these soft skills aids EMTs in performing medical procedures during an emergency.
Being an effective team player is a critical EMT skill since there are often multiple emergency service agencies on the scene of an emergency. The different groups must coordinate their efforts in order to achieve the best outcome for the parties involved.
Ability to navigate challenging situations
EMTs often face challenging scenarios during an emergency and must work with many eyes watching. Therefore, EMTs must not buckle under pressure and they need to remain calm and professional.
Every emergency situation has a different setup, so EMTs must often think on their feet in order to provide the best care for the patient. For example, creativity must be applied in extricating injured people from car crashes or working in cramped locations.
Emergency situations occur in uncontrolled environments — there may be an ongoing emergent threat or danger while working to stabilize or extract patients. Therefore, EMTs should have strong “street smarts” and always be aware of their surroundings.
Unfortunately, EMTs do encounter gruesome situations. Some calls may simply involve a patient with low blood sugar, while other calls are crime scenes and mass casualty incidents. Sticking with the job requires an iron stomach to get through those hard days.
Interpersonal skills include listening and speaking skills, and compassion. EMTs need to carefully listen to patients or bystanders to determine the extent of injuries or illnesses. Conversely, EMTs also need to have good speaking skills so they can clearly explain what is being done, give directions, and relay information to other medical providers once the patient is at the hospital. Lastly, excellent EMTs show compassion as they provide emotional support to patients in an emergency — especially patients in life-or-death situations or extreme mental distress.
Top EMT Clinical Skills
While every emergency scenario is different, there are several basic clinical or medical skills that EMTs must routinely perform.
Patient assessment skills
This clinical skill has many components. Different assessments must be made depending on the scenario. Examples of patient assessment skills for EMTs are vital sign measurements (pulse, blood pressure, respiration rate), level of consciousness assessment, patient medical history assessment, secondary assessments for affected body parts or systems, and mental status assessments.
Airway management skills
This clinical skill involves removing airway obstructions or providing alternate interventions if the airway remains blocked. Head tilt-chin lift, tongue-jaw lift, and jaw thrust are three maneuvers that EMT-Basic may use to open airways. When an airway remains blocked, more advanced skill sets such as suction and use of oropharyngeal airway techniques may be required.
After assessing a patient’s airway, EMTs must ensure that the patient is getting sufficient oxygen. If breathing is a concern, EMT clinical skills include administering oxygen and performing more advanced interventions such as bag-mask-ventilation if the person is unconscious.
An essential EMT clinical skill is cardiac management. This includes basic life support via cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CRP) for infants, children, and adults. Effective knowledge and use of automatic external defibrillators (AED) is also paramount as this equipment can help revive a patient from sudden cardiac arrest.
Trauma is defined as a serious physical and/or emotional injury or damage. EMTs must have trauma skills to help patients after physical trauma has occurred. These EMT skills include bleeding control and shock management, soft tissue injury management, and chest injury management.
While an EMT-Basic does not administer medication early on in their training, paramedics are able to administer basic life-saving medications. This includes bronchodilators for people who cannot breath, oral glucose to people with low blood sugar, epinephrine in the case of anaphylaxis, nitroglycerin for heart attacks, and naloxone for overdose.
How to Learn the Necessary Skills
There are several ways to learn the essential EMT skills needed to become certified and help people during an emergency. All states require that EMTs and paramedics be certified, although the requirements vary by state.
EMTs must have a high school diploma, or equivalent, and CPR certification in order to enter into postsecondary educational programs for emergency medicine. Formal EMT courses consist of approximately 150 hours of specialized instruction, some of which may take place in a hospital or ambulance.
Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations
The National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians certifies EMTs and paramedics at the national level. The national exam has written and hands-on sections. However, some states have state certifications and national certification is not required.
Additional Training Resources
After initial certifications, EMTs are required to stay current with their CPR and other basic life support skills for adults, children, and infants. Organizations such as the Red Cross offer continuing education classes for EMTs. Additionally, as technology advances, it is starting to play a bigger role and provide more options for EMTs to learn essential emergency skills, especially as remote learning becomes more popular.
Virtual reality (VR) has become an appealing option for healthcare training. You may wonder, why VR for healthcare training? VR training provides the following benefits for EMTs and other healthcare workers:
- Increased engagement: VR training helps increase student engagement, especially when the information is very technical. Increased engagement helps increase performance success when performing the task in the real world.
- Recreated scenarios: Practicing different emergency situations is critical for EMTs; however, that is challenging in the real world since some emergent situations are fortunately rare. VR allows instructors to recreate a wide variety of scenarios through VR simulations, which better prepare EMTs for the challenges that come with the job.
- Reduced costs: As VR technology has improved, the VR headset hardware required has become affordable. This allows for training without the financial risk.
- Learning from anywhere: Since VR training can be done anywhere, this allows people to learn healthcare/EMT skills even if they do not live near a training center. This also allows for greater global collaboration.
- Reduced language barriers: People often learn better when they are listening to their native language. VR helps make healthcare training more accessible and effective for individuals who may not speak English as their first language.
Visit SimX to learn more about their VR training program for first responders, which includes a comprehensive curriculum that delivers immersive training scenarios to sharpen critical EMT skills.