Ten Months to Become A Medical Assistant, 150 Hours to Become An EMT?

On weekdays, sandwiched between diverse groups of frequent EMS users having their paternity test results read before millions of viewers, are commercials for schools that train people to become medical assistants.  Those commercials appear between others for lawyers, sub-prime loans, and ones soliciting volunteers for pharmeceutical trials.

For people who are, or were, medical assistants, please forgive my ignorance about what you do.  I know as much about your job as the people say I drive an ambulance know about EMS.  Since I watch more television on the clock than off, you probably work harder on a typical day than I do.   I’m also impressed with how much education you have, and discouraged about how little we get.

From what I’ve seen in doctor’s offices, medical assistants bring patients to the exam room, take vital signs, do an initial assessment, and report it to the doctor.  I’m sure much more goes on behind the scenes.  Medical assistants appear to work with a team, in a public place, with lots of backup nearby if someone is really sick.

The EMT curriculum has increased to 150 hours.  While it good that it includes more anatomy and pathophysiology, the only clinical requirements are ED observation and patient assessment.  EMT’s are often the highest level of care on a scene, work alone in sometimes hostile environments, at all hours of the day and night.  Yet there is no requirement for EMT’s to demonstrate that they can actually do what they’ve learned on live patients before they are certified.

A while ago I was called to a career center, and took care of an instructor who trained medical assistants.  On the way to the hospital I asked how long it takes to become one.  Ten months, she told me, which includes clinical time.  I was embarrassed to tell her low long it takes to become an EMT.

To quote another daytime TV personality, how’s this working out for us?  We really have no idea.  A few services measure cardiac arrest survival, and a few more measure response times.   Clinically high performing services add much more to the minimum education requirements for their people and have strong oversight.  But no one has to do this, and many don’t.  Why don’t we ensure competence before certification? What about measuring how well our services do?

Meanwhile, we keep complaining about low wages, resist learning anything that doesn’t come with a pay raise, and resist increasing initial education to make it harder to get in because of low or non-existent wages.  More money will come if we apply a phrase heard on another daytime TV show: STOP RESISTING!

It takes two years to practice BLS in Canada, the UK, and Australia.  A 150 hour class is all that’s required to be chief of many EMS services in the US.   We need to take our responsibilities as seriously as they do in other countries, and at least as seriously as other allied health professions in this country do.





  1. This is a good post. I agree with what you say. EMS is the only allied healthcare profession that does not require a greater academic background (such as a degree). Because of this, our industry is considered to be vocational, hence the lower pay and the “your just an ambulance driver” mentality we may encounter during interactions with some of our allied healthcare professionals.

    Our knowledge is specialized due to the wide range of things we do and geographical differences. But instead of trying to standardize on a national level, we continue to add new titles and certifications to act as patches for gaps in the system. CCEMTP, Community Paramedic are two such bandaids. We continue to increase our scope of practice and knowledge outside of a national mainstream movement, with little support or more often opposing forces such as nurses unions. We want to be considered equal to allied HC professions that hold to a national/international academic standard, yet unless you attend an EMS program that offers a degree through an accredited institution we have no academic standards. We have certificate programs and card classes, and like you said, Chiefs with sometimes little more than a handful of life experience and a 150 hours of EMS education.

    I’m in Washington State. Because your post raised my curiosity, I’m going to compare the National Standard curriculum for EMT’s with the curriculum for the Health Care Assistant (WA equivalency to Medical Assistant) to see what the gaps are. I suspect the HCA is like a honey bee, flitting along the various levels of care in EMS selecting a few things from each level of care that they find useful for someone to fill the gaps within the facility. The paradox of this is, aren’t we doing the same thing outside the facilities?

    Yes. Good Post. Good Topic.

  2. I’m 100% with you on this, Bob. But the best counter-argument I’ve heard is a decent one: can we cover the entirety of this country with providers trained at that level? As it is, in many regions we’re lucky to have EMT-trained volunteers providing the (still not always very expedient) 911 coverage. Certainly major metropolitan areas could field high-level crews with years of training as a baseline, but how many spots on the map can we stretch that to cover? Can every community afford this, and if they have two medical calls a month, should they really have to?

    I know that Canada and Australia have systems more like you describe, and they have some pretty big plots of land, so I wish I had more familiarity with how they manage it.

    • emspatientperspective says:

      Thanks for the comment Brandon! Someone is paid to provide law enforcement in communities that only have two calls a month, and there’s a hospital that people are paid to work at that those patients are taken to. I don’t consider communities “lucky” if they must rely on the kindness of strangers to drop what they’re doing to respond and respond to medical emergencies.

      I’m convinced we’re at a tipping point to make EMS a true profession in the United States. Communitiy paramedics in rural areas can be utilized between emergencies, and other services pay paramedics to help in the ER between calls. That experience will better prepare them for emergencies.

      As far as the UK, here’s what Mark Whitehead wrote about another post:

      My experience is as a Community First Responder in the UK. (A CFR is an unpaid volunteer with training who can be called to a medical emergency to give basic assistance, including defib, until the professionals arrive.)

      Our paramedics, though not all degree-level, have a long and thorough practical and theoretical training in all aspects of pre-hospital care

      It seems like every other industrialized country has gotten this except us. I’m glad we’re all trying to make it better.

Speak Your Mind