2018 EMT Course Census: Why Are People Taking EMT Courses?

For many, the first step into the world of EMS takes place by seeking and taking an EMT course. Many different types of individuals take EMT courses, including firefighters, those interested in the medical field, and individuals seeking a change in career. Initial EMT courses offer students exposure to the medical field, a bit of anatomy and physiology, and insights into very basic pharmacology. EMT programs usually last anywhere from six weeks to several months.


To better understand the demographics of an EMT course, the intent of this article is to share the EMT-initial class enrollment of a training center in the Minneapolis-St. Paul (Minn.) metropolitan area during the 2018 calendar year. After enrolling into the program, students had the opportunity to share their reasons for taking the course through an online survey that was posted for other students to observe. From January to December 2018, there were 184 responses. Students’ responses were divided into several categories based on overlying trends in responses. The categories were: Pre-MD, Pre-PA, Pre-Paramedic, Pre-Nursing, Firefighter, Volunteer, Curiosity, Want Skills, Medical Career Change, or Non-Medical Career Change. Responses were sorted into the Pre-MD category when they included a desire to attend medical school or mentioned that they had currently enrolled in a premedical undergraduate program. Pre-PA responses indicated a desire to attend physician assistant studies programs. Students with Pre-Paramedic responses noted intentions of continuing onto a paramedic program. Students currently in nursing programs or had intentions of becoming a nurse or nurse practitioner fell under the Pre-Nursing category. There were many students enrolled under the Firefighter classification; these individuals were either current firefighters or were seeking to become firefighters with a department that valued the EMT certification. Some students wanted to volunteer with local rescue agencies or volunteer ambulance services and were classified into the Volunteer category; volunteer and paid-on-call firefighters were grouped in the firefighter category. Other students were not completely certain that work or a career in the medical field was for them and took the EMT class out of curiosity. A further subset of students in the “Want Skills” group took the course in order to learn skills they felt would benefit them in their jobs or daily life; this group included military personnel, law enforcement and corrections officers, ski patrollers, construction or factory workers, outdoor enthusiasts, family members caring for sick relatives, and parents with families. Finally, a portion of participants were seeking a career change. This group was further subdivided into two categories: those with jobs already in the medical field and those coming from completely unrelated fields.

It is worth noting several facts regarding the data. First, participants were not required to post to the survey, meaning all responses were voluntary. While it is unlikely, it may be possible that certain groups would be more likely to post on the forum compared to others, potentially altering the results to enhance this bias. Secondly, the questions asked for free-form responses and candidates had the opportunity to share multiple reasons behind enrolling in EMT school, so there existed uncertainty with some responses. For instance, should someone who has intentions of going to medical or PA school but already is a firefighter should fall under the Pre-MD/Pre-PA category or the Firefighter category? Furthermore, it was not possible to track the certainty of someone following through with their plans; i.e. whether someone who self-identifies as being Pre-Med/Pre-PA/Pre-Paramedic follows through with their intentions.  Remember, this evaluation was conducted at only one training institution in a major metropolitan area. While the sample size is large and diverse, it is possible that regional and geographic differences might account for the trends seen in the data. For instance, the training center was located in close proximity to several colleges and universities, potentially increasing the possibility of college students taking the EMT courses. Additionally, many of the fire departments in the area run medical calls and greatly value the EMT certification. Lastly, the training center doesn’t currently offer a paramedic program, so it’s possible that EMT candidates wishing to pursue a paramedic certification might choose a training center that also offers a paramedic program.


Figure 1

This chart shows the frequency of the various reasons for taking the EMT course. The various categories that responses were sorted into are located on the horizontal axis, and the number of students who fit under each category is listed on the vertical axis.



Based on the results of our endeavor (see Figure 1), the vast majority (42.9%) of students enrolling in the EMT courses are doing so as preparation for further study in the medical field. They have plans to continue on to medical, dental, PA, nursing, and paramedic school. Pre-MD students made up the larger share of this group (55.7%), followed by nursing students (19.0%), then pre-PA students (15.2%), and finally by prospective paramedics (10.1%). As a category by themselves, pre-MD students still make up the largest share of any group, taking up 23.9% of total enrollment. Following those wanting to further pursue other opportunities in the medical field, the next largest share is firefighters. Within this group, they either are currently on a service or looking to join a service. Some already have their First Responder or EMR certification and are looking to assume a greater leadership role on smaller, more rural fire services. Other individuals are seeking to gain an edge for highly-competitive urban firefighting positions that attract thousands of applications for a small number of positions. Some services require or favor applicants already possessing an EMT certification at the time of hiring, however, it is interesting to note that other systems will compensate new hires to go through EMT certification after they have completed the recruitment process.

A large group taking EMT classes are individuals seeking a change in career (14.7%). This group can be further broken down into people coming from medical careers and non-medical careers. Students coming from medical careers – including phlebotomy, CNAs, and technologists – made up 6.5%. Enrollment from participants seeking an entirely new change of career comprised 8.2%. These students usually came from traditional “desk jobs” in a variety of sectors and industries.

Some EMT students (2.7%) wanted to volunteer with ambulance, rescue, and ski patrol services. A portion of enrollment (9.8%) was derived from individuals seeking to further their exposure to the medical domain. This group included college students who might not be convinced enough by a career in medicine to declare themselves as Pre-Med as well as adult participants curious about the emergency medical services but not ready to make a full career change. A final group of participants sought to take EMT class to better equip themselves for their own jobs or daily life (10.3%). Jobs mentioned included law enforcement, corrections, ski patrol, adventure sports, outdoor tourism, and the military. Activities from daily life that compelled people to take our EMT classes included skydiving, wilderness exploration, skiing, and even parenthood.

There were also variations based upon the time of year surveyed. In the summer, when undergraduate programs are typically on break, the percentage of college students rose dramatically. This number fell during the spring and fall months when classes are in session.


For instructors and seasoned EMS professionals alike, knowing the numbers behind who are joining our ranks can be valuable information. EMS instructors can better tailor their teaching methods and supplemental curriculum to best suit who they are teaching. Firefighters who already possess an EMR certification, for instance, might benefit from additional instruction in certain areas, distinct from areas that law enforcement or correctional officers might find most helpful. Furthermore, mentors in the field, like training officers or senior personnel, might better hone their mentoring strategies through understanding the makeup of their new recruits. EMS instructors and course administrators are encouraged to investigate EMT course enrollment to see if the trends described here are represented in other regions. As further evaluations of class make-up of EMT program participants can be collected, perhaps educational system might be better positioned to adapt their instructional programing to better meet the needs of their student population.

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