Is EMT School Hard?

If you’re reading this, you’re probably considering taking the big step toward becoming an EMT or Emergency Medical Technician. I am currently a licensed EMT-B, and completed the hard course with no prior experience in healthcare or really any knowledge. Plus, I’m not that smart.

What I’m trying to get at- I’m not some Harvard professor that took the course in my sleep, I am an average joe who had nothing helping him before taking this course. I’m probably just like you, someone who’s interested in the profession, but we have NO experience at all.

So, is EMT School Hard?

Yes and no. EMT school isn’t hard in the actual ‘content’- the things you learn aren’t that hard to understand. The problem is, EMT school basically forces a TON of information into your brain in a tiny amount of time. This will probably be one of the most rigorous courses you take in your entire life, as it takes you from a random joe off the street to an EMT that can save lives by memory. There is INTENSE memorization in this course, and it will take a lot of studying.

The goal of the course is to make you memorize tons of life-saving interventions during high-pressure situations. Which is good- that will be your literal job. You’ll hate the school for the intense memorization you’ll have to do, but you’ll thank it when you’re out working and can remember everything under pressure.

Let’s cover this a little more in-depth and explain why this is important.

Is EMT School Hard?
Is EMT School Hard?

The Content Itself Isn’t Hard

Before you put up your pitchforks and start yelling at me saying EMTs aren’t dumb- pause. That’s not what I’m saying.

Trust me, there are a ton of people that fail EMT school. It is a very difficult course, that’s why it’s taught in colleges and not in high schools. And yes, understanding our body and how to save someone’s life isn’t 1st grader knowledge.

But, what I’m trying to get at is this: You don’t need to understand astrophysics or have four college degrees to complete EMT school. You don’t need 200 IQ either, it’s stuff that is difficult but also easy enough that anyone can do it with enough studying and practice.

So again- it’s not easy, but it’s also not like you need to be a 4.0 GPA student either. It takes some time to understand, oftentimes you’ll have to review concepts quite a bit, but nothing about it is inherently so difficult that you can’t learn it with enough time.

That’s how EMT school is designed ON PURPOSE. A big problem in the United States is RURAL EMS. If you live in the middle of farmville nowhere (me) oftentimes the only EMS or Medical response is going to be quite literally like random people in your small city that get paged while they are golfing. There is generally no people working 24/7.

Now you might be wondering- where am I going with this?

EMS Is Designed With Rural EMS In Mind

A big part of the EMS system is supporting rural america. That’s why EMT school is designed this way. They want those people from those farm cities to be able to take an EMT course, and know enough to save someones life- without having to get into the whole microbiology and intense stuff like that.

The goal is that your neighbor can take this class, know the basics to keep someone alive until they can get that person to the hospital or an Advanced Life Support (ALS) unit.

At the same time, they don’t want to overwhelm that rural EMS person with crazy microbiology, arterial blood gases, et cetera. Because ultimately, they don’t need to know that. Most of them are interested in whatever their hobbies are, and have a genuine passion for being there for their neighbor in need.

That’s why our system is kind of set up like this. So, if you WANT to know the master microbiology and crazy stuff like that, you can become a paramedic or get varianced to Advanced EMT (since so many states are discontinuing AEMT as a class these days).

Again, the goal of EMT-B is to let those that want to help others know the basic stuff to keep someone alive until they can get to ALS or a doctor. That’s also why the class is so short.

EMT-B School Does NOT Cover ADVANCED TOPICS, Paramedic/AEMT Does

So, let’s say you have a genuine interest in moving further in your EMS career.

That’s great- but there is still so much ALS crews know that you don’t. And that’s not a bad thing. That’s why one of the most critical things of EMT-B school is calling for an ALS intercept.

Now- does that mean BLS is useless? Absolutely NOT. BLS is the foundation of ALS every time. However, ALS school covers more of the stuff you need to really ‘buckle down and study’ in school to understand.

That’s a big difference. Paramedic school is very difficult- and again, not saying EMT school is difficult. But remember how the schools are set up.

EMT school is set up so basically, anyone who wants to save lives can do so and understand the basics.

Paramedic school is set up with the idea in mind that- you want to take this to the next level, and now you’re going to be educated as such. It’s much harder and opens a lot more possibilities in life-saving treatment.

But, if that is so- why are so many people saying EMT school is hard?

The Content Isn’t Hard, It’s The Pace It’s Taught That Makes It Hard

Gosh, I cannot be the only one that was surprised that EMT school is often less than a semester. My EMT school was literally less than 2 months. (It was a great school nonetheless, but it was tough!)

So many EMTs out there are hugely in favor of turning the EMT-B certification into a year-long course, or two-semester course. With that in mind, EMTs would likely be able to do a lot more in the field as well.

But, that’s why EMT school is actually so hard. MOST EMT courses across the country are less than 10 weeks.

And most outsiders will be surprised to find out that the people coming to your house when you call 911 were in school for less than 10 weeks.

But, this isn’t just any job. EMTs are literally tasked with saving lives and because of this, you have basically 10 weeks to take in a billion words worth of life-saving material and content.

That’s Right, You Have To Memorize Tons of Life Saving Procedures, EMT School IS ALL Memorization.

Here’s the thing. EMT School is INTENSE Memorization, and that’s kind of a good thing.

The problem is, when you’re in the field or in the ambulance and someone starts dying- you’ll freak out. And honestly, you’ll forget a ton. That’s why EMT School IS this INTENSE memorization, they want to make sure even when you’re panicked you can remember the basics to save someone’s life.

Now, I’m not saying that you don’t have access to Medical Control or standing protocols- but generally speaking, you have seconds to react and oftentimes you cannot get ahold of medical control by the time you need to intervene.

That’s why the school is so rigorous about this memorization. Of course, they want you to use those standing protocols and contact your medical director when you need. HOWEVER, they need you to remember the very basics when someone needs your help.

Ideally, you should know when to start CPR right away, get an airway in, and start giving someone oxygen right away during a code without needing your medical director or protocols.

But remember- when someone is literally dying in front of you for the first time you’ll probably panic. But that’s where the EMT school’s intense memorization kicks in. It will almost become second nature to you to help that person when they need it the most. And in that moment, you’ll be thanking your instructors.

The Problem Is, EMTs Have To Know So Much, and It’s Crammed Into A Few Weeks

On our last topic, we discussed how important memorization is in those super-critical moments.

But, EMTs have to know so much other than that. Our job isn’t just doing CPR and oxygen (even if we often joke it is…) we have to know SO SO much more than that.

We, as EMTs, often have to identify a multitude and endless list of life-threatening diseases and change the treatment accordingly. You cannot just do the same thing to every patient, and oftentimes depending on their real problem, you might be doing more harm by performing the wrong intervention.

That’s the hard part of the job. You have to know so much because unfortunately, you’re kind of on your own and you really are the first responder to any situation.

You’ll have to know tons of HAZMAT information and scene safety stuff. Furthermore, you’re for some reason expected to know thousands of different diagnoses, conditions, and medications.

It’s important, truthfully, and oftentimes changes your treatment. But, that’s one of the hard things of the job. You have to know literally so much to properly treat patients, but the school is so short.

This is one of the reasons many EMTs push for longer education to help prepare us better. But, remember earlier, because of rural america- that’s very difficult to reasonably achieve.

But, Is The CONTENT Itself Hard?

Not really. And I know we touched on this earlier- but it’s good to take a recap with everything we’ve now talked about in mind.

No, the content itself isn’t mind-exploding difficult. Sure, it’s way harder than most things you need to know. But the hard thing about EMT school is the little amount of time you have to learn it all, and how much you have to memorize.

Advice For Those Struggling Or Starting EMT School Soon

Remember, I was never some super smart kid growing up. And EMT school was honestly tough for me. I currently work as an EMT and love my job, and I’ve been pursuing higher education (paramedic school). Yet, I will never be one to say EMT school is easy.

Even though everybody likes to say it’s super easy, it really isn’t. And I’m not saying that I failed classes or tests- but anybody telling you they got 100% on every single exam is just lying to you.

So, here’s my advice for those struggling or starting EMT school soon:

  • Watch EMTPrep on YouTube to get familiar with the skills tests you’ll need for your license and to really understand what your whole school is about.
    • When you want to get your EMT license. You need to take a long set of ‘skills’ assessments where you perform different medical scenarios on mannuequins. This ranges from Cardiac Arrest, bagging, medical/trauma assessment, et cetera. Your WHOLE EMT SCHOOL IS BASED AROUND THIS. When you watch some of those videos, you’ll start to understand what your book is teaching you and how it applies to the real world.
  • Ask your instructor for course access earlier, to get familiar with skill sheets, homework, class only videos, etc.
    • EVERYBODY ON ANY EMT FORUM WILL TELL YOU TO DO THIS. This whole article I’ve been talking about how short EMT school is. 99% of instructors will let you get course access early, and this will save you so much in the long run.
      • Put it like this, most EMT schools will have you learning 3-4 chapters a week and testing on them every week. That’s about 1-2 days a whole chapter, and these chapters aren’t easy- they’re long, excruiciating, size 4 font and Times New Roman. If you get the time, you can learn the content over more time and take a lot of the stress out of school.
  • PocketPrep Apps.
    • This one was the biggest lifesaver for me. I got the app EMT PocketPrep. (I’m not sponsored or anything, and I don’t get a kickback or anything).
      • These apps give you questions from the NREMT exam and general EMT exams. It really helps you understand how these tests are and gives good explanations on why questions are chosen.
      • I think most students stuggle with the EMT exam because it’s different than every other test. You always have two or more answers that are ‘right’, but you often need to pick the ‘most right answer’.
    • On top of that, every NREMT question is built with ‘safety first’ in mind. Oftentimes students miss these because questions because they fall for trick questions. (For example, it will ask: What is your first step when you get a patient who is bleeding from the arm? And many of the questions will be lengthly with long, intricate assessments. And one of the questions will have the words ‘Put gloves on”- whilst none of the other ones do. That’s the right answer, as the NREMT stresses SAFETY FIRST.)
    • I personally did these questions all day long during EMT school and inbetween. Often doing 50-100 questions a day. It helped immensely, and there was a drastic change in my exam scores in class to be way better, and I passed my NREMT Written Exam first try.

Conclusion – It’s A LOT To Take In, In Such a SHORT Amount of Time, But That’s All That Really Makes It Hard

While EMT school is a tough journey for all of us. At the end of the day, the content itself isn’t radically crazy- even though it’s very difficult, it’s the fact that we need to memorize basically an entire medical textbook in just a few weeks.

So, if you can- ask your instructor for early access, study the main concepts of EMT school early (Oxygen, CPR, Airways, etc), and never be afraid to ask for help from your instructor.

If you’re going into EMT school soon or are currently in it, I wish you luck. Just remember, it’s a ton of intense memorization, but you’ll thank your instructors later when you’re in the field and need it the most.

And yes, a ton of us want longer EMT education. But remember, rural america relies heavily on EMTs. Right now, even as I write this, many states and the board of EMS is changing things a lot to try and make our education better and longer- but they kind of have their hands tied. Recently, we’ve seen changes to the AEMT and EMR role, so- let me know in the comments below, what would you do to change this?

And if you have finished EMT school and have any advice for your next peers in line, share some tips below on what helped you through school! Thank you for reading, and good luck on the exam. And remember, BSI SCENE SAFETY- every single skills exam you do!!!!

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