Paramedic or EMT — What’s the Difference?

Paramedic EMT

While the terms EMT and paramedic are often used interchangeably in casual conversation, there’s a big difference in what the two are allowed and equipped to do when they arrive at the scene of an emergency.

An EMT, or emergency medical technician, is certified to provide basic life support. This means that they can provide any medical treatment that does not involve invasive medical procedures or medication administration.

A paramedic is certified to provide advanced life support, a higher degree of medical service that includes the administration of medications, IV fluids and various monitoring functions and advanced medical procedures.

Because of these differences in training, the type of medical response EMTs and paramedics can provide varies widely, which can have a significant impact on a patient’s outcome. A few examples:

  • If a patient is suffering from a severe allergic reaction, a paramedic can provide and administer epinephrine, secure an airway and provide IV medication. In a similar situation, an EMT could only provide CPR.
  • During a heart attack, a paramedic can monitor heart rhythms, electrically control an unstable heartbeat, pace a patient’s heart rate and get them back into a normal heart rhythm, start an IV, administer medication and secure an open airway if needed. An EMT can check vital signs and use an automated defibrillator to shock a heart back into a rhythm only after the heart has stopped and provide CPR.
  • A paramedic can administer IV medications for stroke, seizures, diabetic and drug overdoses and intubate to provide an airway. An EMT cannot.

In short, a paramedic can facilitate life-saving medical interventions that EMTs do not have the training and equipment to provide and can make a dramatic difference in the outcome of a medical emergency.