Extracurricular EMT Guide—How to Become an Emergency Medical Technician


The decision to dedicate your life to the study and practice of medicine is not one to be made on a whim. Admissions committees want to see that you have thoroughly thought through your decision, and they determine this by looking at the activities you highlight in your application. Have you immersed yourself in the medical industry? Otherwise, how can you actually know it’s the right path for you?

Extracurriculars are an opportunity to broaden your horizons and deepen your understanding of what it’s like to work in the medical field. As an EMT, you’ll work in a fast-paced environment, gaining hands-on medical experience. It’s an exciting job, but it’s also a taxing one that can be emotionally draining and difficult to balance with school work.

Our guide to becoming an EMT as an extracurricular will discuss the benefits of this experience and how to succeed as an emergency medical technician. Is it the best fit for you, and can you handle the pressure of emergency medical situations?


What Is an EMT (Emergency Medical Technician)?

Emergency medical technicians (EMTs) are healthcare professionals who specialize in the treatment and transport of sick or injured patients in the prehospital setting. They are trained to assess a patient’s condition, administer life support measures, such as CPR and supplemental oxygen, and stabilize patients for transport to a hospital or other medical facility.

EMTs work in a variety of settings, including ambulances, fire departments, and other emergency medical services settings. Being in an ambulance means you can count on being called to a variety of different locations, from people’s homes to businesses to right on the street.

Working as an EMT is a bit of a trial by fire, as it will test how you operate under immense amounts of pressure. One con of being an EMT is you don’t get to see the next steps in care. Your job is to stabilize and transport, and your job ends there. You don’t get to see what happens once the patient is in the hospital.

If you prefer to work in an adrenaline-filled and fast-paced environment and want to gain hands-on medical experience, working as an EMT is an excellent choice. There are three different levels of EMT certification, each with varying degrees of training and scopes of practice.

Emergency Medical Technician Training Types


EMT-Basic is the first level of certification. The responsibilities of a Basic EMT consist of non-invasive interventions for low acuity patients and assisting other higher level personnel, such as Advanced EMTs and Paramedics, with higher acuity patients.

Examples of treatments that a Basic EMT can provide include administering aspirin for chest pain, providing supplemental oxygen for shortness of breath, and monitoring vital signs. In addition, they are trained to administer basic life support, including CPR, bleeding control, and basic airway management.

Advanced-EMT or AEMT

Advanced-EMT or AEMT is the next level of certification. An advanced EMT is able to perform all of the duties of an EMT-Basic as well as limited invasive treatments to care for higher acuity patients.

This includes placing intravenous catheters (IVs) for fluid or medication administration, administering nebulizer treatments for asthma or COPD exacerbations, placing supraglottic airways, and more. The exact scope of an AEMT can vary depending on the state or medical system. For instance, an AEMT working in a more rural area may have a greater scope of practice than an AEMT working in a large city.

EMT-P (Paramedic)

The last level of certification is the EMT-P, more commonly referred to as the paramedic. Paramedics render invasive treatments for severely ill or injured patients.

They are able to assess and stabilize a wide variety of life threatening conditions, including cardiac arrests, respiratory failure, heart attacks, and severe trauma. As such, their scope of practice is much greater than Basic or Advanced EMTs. They can administer a wide variety of medications, including narcotics and anti-arrhythmics. They can perform endotracheal intubation for airway management, cardioversions for dysrhythmias, and needle chest decompression for pneumothoraces—all while in the back of a moving ambulance.

For those looking to take their EMS career further, there are additional certifications for paramedics, including critical care paramedic, flight paramedic, and tactical paramedic.

State Protocols

It should be noted that all EMTs work under a medical director and adhere to state protocols that dictate what treatments or interventions they can and cannot do. These protocols serve as standing orders to administer treatments without a doctor present.

As such, the scope of practice for EMTs, AEMTs, and Paramedics can vary significantly depending on the location or medical system. In some instances, EMTs may need to contact an emergency medicine physician for permission to administer a particular medication or intervention—even when it’s clinically indicated.


How to Become an EMT and Gain Emergency Medical Training

Accreditation and Courses

To become an EMT in the United States, you must complete an accredited EMT course and pass a written and practical skills exam administered by the National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians (NREMT).

EMT-Basic courses are typically 10-12 weeks—approximately 150 hours in duration—and consist of in-class lectures, practice scenarios, and clinical experiences. Once you’ve completed your EMT-Basic course and passed the NREMT exam, you can apply for an Advanced EMT Program.

Advanced EMT programs consist of an additional 10-14 weeks or 300 hours of training. Similar to the EMT-Basic course, this typically consists of some combination of in-class lectures, practice scenarios, and clinical experiences.

Lastly, to become a paramedic, you must hold either an EMT-Basic or EMT-Advanced certification. Paramedic courses are typically eight months to one year in duration, which equates to roughly 800-1000 hours of training. In addition to the length of training, paramedic programs have much more intensive clinical components, often consisting of ambulance ride-alongs and in-the-hospital training.

Once you’ve become certified as an EMT, AEMT, or paramedic, finding a job is often fairly simple, as many areas face widespread understaffing. Most companies will require some sort of testing as part of their interview process, so it’s important to brush up on your clinical knowledge and skills ahead of time.

The experience you earn being an EMT is invaluable to becoming a doctor, but there are several levels of training required.

Gaining EMT Experience

Gaining the experience you need to become an EMT can be difficult because you are not in control of how available this position is to you in certain areas. Start by researching whether or not your school runs a club or program dedicated to emergency medical training. If this isn’t available to you, you’ll need to put in the leg work yourself to gain the experience you need for an emergency medical position.

Reach out to local hospitals to see what’s available. Your pre-health advisor may be able to direct you to any community support available locally. As a final option, there are always private companies out there that provide EMT training at a cost. It could be a couple thousand dollar investment, but that cost is just that—an investment. You’ll gain invaluable experience, some of the most intensive healthcare experience you can get, directly in the field. And once you’re trained, for the most part, you’ll be paid for the work you do as an EMT.

Be flexible when looking for positions, and be aware that your experience level will determine which positions are appropriate for you. There’s a big difference between being an EMT vs. a paramedic.


The Benefits of Working as a Premed EMT

Benefits of being an EMT

As an EMT, you’re able to gain fast-paced, hands-on experience while getting paid to do it. Working as an emergency medical technician puts students in the thick of medical care, sometimes in high-stress environments where the life of the patient or multiple patients is at risk.

Clinical Experience

The most obvious benefit is you’ll gain a great deal of knowledge and clinical experience by working as an EMT. You’ll have the opportunity to take histories, obtain vital signs, perform physical exams, and administer care to patients—all before ever stepping foot into medical school.

Whereas other common premed jobs, such as medical scribing or research, are significantly limited in their ability to interact with patients, EMTs are directly involved in patient care. You’ll quite literally get your hands dirty as an EMT and experience a wide range of medical situations, some of which don’t go the way you hope they will.

In addition, EMTs work alongside many other members of the healthcare team, including nurses, physician assistants, and doctors. This allows you to ask questions to further your medical knowledge and build relationships with people who may ultimately be able to write you a letter of recommendation for your medical school application.

Job Flexibility

Being an EMT offers a great deal of flexibility that other premed jobs do not. Emergencies don’t clock out after 5 PM or take breaks during the holidays. As such, EMTs work around the clock to deliver care to their patients. In many locations, EMTs also work 12 hour shifts, allowing them to be a full-time employee while only working three days per week. This can give you tremendous flexibility to work around your classes and other responsibilities.

EMTs also work in a variety of different settings. Although we typically associate EMTs with ambulances, this isn’t the case for all EMTs. There are opportunities to work in medical offices and emergency departments, work first aid for special events, and do interfacility transports, just to name a few. Each setting has its individual pros and cons; however, you can take comfort in knowing that you aren’t limited to only working on an ambulance.

Practice Working Under Pressure

EMTs learn how to work under pressure in stressful environments. Often, the life of the patient is in your hands, and you’re responsible for your patient while they’re under your care. You won’t know what the day will be like from one to the next, which can be quite exciting and rewarding, but it’s also taxing on your mental wellbeing.

Although that stress may sound like a downside and not a benefit, it provides a clear view of what it can be like to become a doctor. You may save the life of a patient, but you’ll also encounter those you can’t save. You’ll have to make decisions that affect the lives of others, and you’ll need to engage with a wide variety of patients while keeping your cool. Can you handle it? Is this really the career you want to dedicate your life to? You’re likely to find out if being a doctor is really for you as you experience what it’s like to work as an EMT.

Leadership & Responsibility

Lastly, becoming an EMT can help you develop your abilities as a leader and give you a taste of true responsibility for your patients. As an EMT, you’re often called upon to care for patients in unfamiliar environments. As such, you need to be able to survey the scene and take control of the situation in order to effectively care for your patients, which requires strong leadership skills.

In addition, the decisions you make while working as an EMT can have lasting consequences for your patients. Although all EMTs treat patients based on protocols, the scenarios you’ll face are not always black and white. You’ll regularly experience situations that challenge you to think outside of the box and use the resources available to you to deliver the best quality care to your patients.


Drawbacks of Being an EMT

Drawbacks of being and EMT

Although there are many benefits to being an EMT, there are some drawbacks you should be aware of before pursuing this extracurricular position.


First, there’s the time in training. Becoming an EMT requires anywhere from a few months to a couple of years to complete, depending on the level of certification.

This means either delaying your undergraduate studies or taking on a heavier course load while you complete your EMT training. In contrast, other premed jobs, such as medical scribing, don’t require any type of certification and allow you to start working and gaining experience immediately.

Challenging Schedule

Although the flexible schedule of an EMT can be beneficial in some ways, it can also be challenging in others. Because emergencies happen at all hours of the day, every day of the year, you may have to regularly work nights, weekends, or holidays while the rest of your friends are enjoying their time off.

Stress and Burnout

Being an EMT can also be incredibly stressful. Due to the nature of emergencies, strong emotions are commonplace. You’ll regularly treat patients who are scared, sad, or even angry—and sometimes those feelings get taken out on you.

Poor outcomes are also not uncommon. For instance, it’s estimated that only about 10% of patients who experience cardiac arrest outside of the hospital survive. This means that as an EMT, you’ll become intimately familiar with death and suffering.

It should come as no surprise then that burnout is incredibly common among EMTs at all levels of training. In fact, it’s so common that most EMT programs include topics in mental health, burnout, and stress management as part of their curriculum. This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t become an EMT—it can be an incredible learning experience. Rather, it’s to inform you of the challenges that EMTs face, so you can go into it knowing both the pros and the cons.


Extracurricular EMT Tips and Strategies

emergency room sign

If you’ve decided to become an EMT, here are some tips to help you get the most out of the experience.

1 | Be Curious

Approach the job with a sense of curiosity. Although you will be limited in your roles and responsibilities as an EMT, there is no limit to how much you can learn. You can get as much or as little as you want from the experience. It’s completely dependent on you and your willingness to learn. The information and the resources are there, but it’s up to you to seek them out.

2 | Hone Your Communication Skills

Working as an EMT is all about teamwork. You’ll work with a variety of different medical practitioners, including other EMTs, paramedics, nurses, and doctors, as well as people outside of the medical industry, including firefighters and police officers.

Working as part of a healthcare team will help you hone your teamwork skills. Medical students, residents, and doctors need to work on teams, so pay attention to developing your communication and interpersonal skills as you fulfill the duties of your job.

As an EMT, you’ll meet and communicate with dozens of people each day. Arguably the biggest benefit being an EMT has over other premed extracurriculars is that you’ll be directly involved in patient care. Effective communication is crucial for your future career as a physician, and the sooner you’re able to develop these skills, the better off you’ll be. Use this as an opportunity to hone your communication skills and work effectively as part of the healthcare team.

3 | Network and Build Connections

Use your time as an EMT to network. Although most EMT jobs won’t allow you to work directly with physicians, you’ll still regularly communicate with them when transporting patients to and from the hospital.

Use these opportunities to network with the people around you. You never know what doors may open up for you simply because of who you know.

4 | Keep Your End Goal in Sight

It’s also important to keep your end goal in mind. Although it can be exciting to get out there and start taking care of patients, don’t lose sight of the bigger picture. Emergency work is tough yet extremely interesting. You’ll feel a direct connection to the impact of the service you are providing because you are on the frontlines, helping people through emergencies—including some life or death situations.

Some premeds unintentionally prioritize extracurriculars, such as being an EMT, over other aspects of their medical school application. Remember, your extracurriculars are only one piece of the puzzle. You still need to put sufficient time and effort into the other aspects of your application, including your GPA, MCAT, research, personal statement, and volunteer work.

Although it’s good to have strong extracurriculars, extracurriculars alone won’t earn you an acceptance to medical school.

Ultimately, you must balance your school work with any extracurricular activity you take on. Especially while completing EMT work, be cognisant of your energy and academic standing. Are you able to continue your part-time work as an EMT while maintaining your grades and other commitments? If you aren’t able to maintain both, consider cutting down the hours you spend as an EMT, or try taking on jobs that are less taxing, such as working at concerts and events.

If you are passionate about gaining a significant amount of emergency experience, consider a summer job as an EMT or a gap year in which you can focus on extracurriculars while building a stronger application.

5 | Monitor Your Mental Health and Watch for Burnout

Burnout is a very serious problem in the medical industry, especially in emergency medical fields, and that’s the case for both paramedics and doctors who have been in their careers for many years and those who are just starting out.

You’ll see some of the most difficult situations out there, whether that’s related to homelessness, death, drug abuse, self-harm, family grief, etc. While patient care is most of the job, taking care of your own mental health will ensure you can provide the best possible care to everyone you encounter.

Especially when you encounter tough situations, take a step back afterward to check in with yourself. Remember to breathe, and after a long day, take some time to reflect on how you are feeling. Journaling is a great way to work through your thoughts while also building a record you can look back on when it comes time to apply to medical school or residency. Learn more: How Students Can Harness the Powerful Benefits of Journaling.

6 | Lead With Empathy and Be Kind to Everyone

This last tip applies to any extracurricular job, as well as any interaction you have as a premed and medical student. It is incredibly important to lead with kindness in your work. Even if you’re working with people who don’t treat you nicely, remember that it is your reputation on the line, not theirs.

It’s you who needs to build strong relationships to acquire letters of recommendation. Don’t let your emotions get the best of you and sink to someone else’s level, even if they are being rude or short-tempered with you. Continue to treat people with kindness and respect; often, those who were not initially nice will warm up to you.

As an EMT, remember that everyone around you is also dealing with high-stress situations and environments. Lead with empathy toward your colleagues as well as any patient you interact with. Your kindness, patience, and positive attitude will not go unnoticed, even if you can’t directly see the rewards in the moment.


The Purpose of Extracurriculars—What Schools Look For

Despite being the fifth section of your medical school application, the Work and Activities section, along with your personal statement, is the first place admissions committees look. This is because your extracurriculars give them a sense of your interests, personality, motivation, and if you match the kind of medical student they’re looking for.

You can select up to 15 premed experiences on the AMCAS Work and Activities section, and these will range from volunteering experiences to extracurricular activities to honors to employment and more. You’ll also get to discuss the impact each of these activities made on your decision to pursue medicine as a career.

Admissions committees are looking for candidates who are sure they want to become doctors, so it’s important to include a diverse range of activities to show that your experiences and interests are well-rounded and that you actually know what you’re getting into.

Medical schools are chiefly looking for activities in a few core areas—research experience, clinical exposure, and community involvement.

Admissions committees want variety, but you don’t need to spend the same amount of time in each of these areas. It’s much better to choose activities you’re truly excited and passionate about. The more interested you are in something, the more likely you are to take on a leadership role, and admissions committees are certainly looking for candidates who are strong leaders.

You will also be able to speak enthusiastically about the activities when it comes time to interview. If you’re not interested in discussing an extracurricular, your interviewer won’t be interested in listening to you either.

Select a variety of experiences you’re genuinely excited about to give admissions committees a clear picture of who you are, what you’re capable of, and how much you’ll be able to contribute to their student body.

For more information, read our AMCAS Work and Activities Section Guide. For osteopathic applicants, read our AACOMAS Experiences and Achievements Guide, and for Texas medical school applicants, we have a TMDSAS Activities Section Guide.


How to Choose Your Extracurricular Activities

Choose extracurricular activities you’re actually passionate about so that you can dive in and totally commit to them. If you choose activities you don’t feel particularly energized by or enthusiastic about, getting your hours will be extremely tedious and not very rewarding. Plus, your lack of engagement will be noticed by your supervisors, which will make it all the more challenging to secure strong letters of recommendation.

Consider what you want to gain from the experience. For example, if you want to see what it’s like to be on the frontlines of healthcare, you may want to look for opportunities as an EMT.

Do some research to discover what extracurriculars are available locally and through your school, but don’t limit yourself. If, for example, your school doesn’t offer an EMT program, look for opportunities with a private company or in your community.

It is vital to choose extracurriculars you’re genuinely enthusiastic about. That said, watch out for diminishing returns. If you’ve already clocked 2000 hours in one activity, 100 more won’t make much of a difference. It’s better to gain different experiences than to put all of your eggs in one basket.

It doesn’t take 2000 hours to show you’re committed to your extracurricular, so aim for a sustainable amount of hours. If you’re a full-time student, you might be able to choose two part-time opportunities, but any more than that will spread you thin. Showing long-term commitment to your extracurricular is more important than the number of hours you’ve dedicated to it.

Admissions committees and residency programs are looking for well-rounded students with experience in a wide variety of areas. What are your current weaknesses? Where have you not dedicated enough time and energy? Which area do you need to collect more experience in? Prioritize clinical, research, and volunteering opportunities, as this variety will enhance your application and show that you’re an applicant with a vast range of interests and skills.

Types of Extracurriculars graphic


Become a Well-Rounded Applicant

Many applicants make the mistake of believing the Work and Activities section isn’t as important as the other sections of the medical school application. This couldn’t be further from the truth. The experiences section is the first place admissions committees look, as it gives them an idea of who you are, what drives you, and if you will make meaningful contributions to their student body.

Med School Insiders offers one-on-one advising that pairs you with a physician advisor who best fits your specific needs. Whether you’re applying to medical school or residency, it’s our goal to help you create a future that aligns with your vision. We can help you decide which extracurriculars to pursue, secure ideal positions, and fine-tune a well-rounded application that will get you noticed by admissions committees.

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