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What Types of Hours Do EMTs Work?

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An emergency medical technician (EMT) or paramedic provides quick care for people who are sick or injured. EMTs respond to emergency calls and may be part of a team that transports patients to medical care facilities. The work is fast-paced and often stressful. Nevertheless, most EMTs say they derive satisfaction from their jobs, knowing they make a difference.

Job Description

An EMT provides emergency care and transportation to the sick or injured. EMT hours can be long, as EMTs need to be able to respond when needed with very little notice. It's not a job for everyone, as emergency situations can be loud and chaotic. In addition to medical skills, EMTs need to remain calm and alert. An EMT schedule can be unpredictable, which is the biggest negative noted by those working in the field.

Education Requirements

Training requirements vary. At a minimum, EMTs undergo basic training, consisting of 120 to 150 hours of instruction that can take from six months to two years to complete. A high school diploma is usually the minimum requirement for admission to any training program. Basic training is offered through many colleges and vocational schools. EMTs must be certified in cardio-pulmonary resuscitation (CPR), which can be a part of a training program or a prerequisite. Most states require that an individual be at least 18 years old before beginning training. Employers usually require candidates to pass a background check.

Work Environment

EMT shifts are scheduled around the clock, since emergencies can happen at any time. Emergencies occur both indoors and outdoors, so the work environment can be as unpredictable as the hours. At times, emergency care may be required in many different settings, such as in the pouring rain, in the middle of a football field or at the scene of an automobile accident, and a trained EMT has to be able to remain professional, even when fatigued by working long shifts. The number of hours an EMT is required to work, as well as the specific duties performed can vary based on the level of training and the place of employment. It isn’t likely that an emergency medical technician can work a set number of predictable hours. It is important for a candidate that is interested in becoming an EMT to be willing to work whenever needed.

EMTs may be employed by the following:

Ambulance Services

EMTs who work for private ambulance services may work a wide variety of hours. Some ambulance services schedule EMTs to work 12 hours shifts, such as 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. EMTs that work for other ambulance services may work a 24-hour on-call shift, followed by 24 to 48 hours off. Because emergency care has to be available around the clock, EMTs may end up working 50 or 60 hours a week to be sure there is a professional available at all times. When not actually at work, these heath care professionals may need to remain on call, and may have to respond at a moment’s notice in the event of an emergency.

Fire Departments

Many fire departments employ trained EMTs. For some candidates, working as an EMT may be a stepping stone to becoming a firefighter. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, fire-department EMTs may work extremely unpredictable hours, varying between 8-hour shifts and 10-hour shifts, usually working a total of about 50 hours a week. They may also work for 24 hours, followed by 48 hours off. It isn’t possible to predict how many emergencies may come up on the same night, and at times it may be necessary to work longer hours than expected.


Emergency medical technicians that are employed by hospitals may work somewhat more predictable hours, such as scheduled 8- or 12-hour shifts. Although emergency medical technicians who work in a hospital environment may work more predictable shifts than EMTs who work for an ambulance service, they still have to be willing to work extra shifts when needed.

Salary and Job Outlook

The average salary for an EMT is $35,340 per year. Geographic location, employer, education and experience can account for some variation in pay. On average, EMT supervisors earn $53,737 per year.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics tracks data and makes projections for all civilian occupations. Job growth for EMTs is expected to be 15 percent through 2026, much faster than average growth compared to all other occupations. As the population grows, there will be more emergencies requiring skilled intervention.