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Should I Become a Paramedic or a Nurse?

Most people who end up working in healthcare are driven by a strong desire to help others and make a difference in the world. Many who opt to pursue a career in emergency services find themselves choosing between becoming a paramedic or a nurse. Both are challenging positions that offer the same impact in their community, and each one is at the front line of patient care. Ultimately, however, nurses and paramedics are different in a variety of ways.

At the end of the day, your choice will likely come down to the following factors:

1. Training

The training that paramedics and nurses go through is very different. One major difference is that practical experience for nursing tends to happen inside a hospital, while paramedic care usually happens on-site where the emergency takes place. This means the skills nurses and paramedics have to learn are very different.

For example, one of the main skills that paramedics have to learn is to quickly assess a patient in crisis. Their studies will focus on human anatomy and how to provide emergency care to people who have suffered a recent trauma. Training will take place in the classroom and in the field.

Nurses may also need to provide emergency care, but their training will include much more: chemistry, nutrition, physiology, biology, and even psychology. During their training, extensive time will be spent in the classroom, followed by rotations in various hospital departments such as the emergency ward, labor and delivery, pediatrics, surgery, and much more.

Both paramedics and nurses have the option to pursue various levels of training to earn their degrees. Paramedic training usually spans one to two years towards earning an associate’s degree or certification. Nurses may choose to pursue a two-year associate’s degree or a full four-year bachelor’s degree. For the latter, the option to advance their career through master’s and doctoral programs is also available.

2. Qualifications and Certification

Paramedics go through a three-level program—Basic (EMT), Intermediate (EMT), and Paramedic (EMT). Coursework usually covers trauma, emergency skills, and patient assessment, with most students spending a lot of time in the field. They earn their certification through the National Registry of Emergency Medical Technician (NREMT) and are required to recertify every couple of years.

Nurses have the option to pursue an associate’s degree or complete a four-year bachelor’s degree. Depending on their nursing goals, they can become vocational nurses, registered nurses, or certified nurse aids. Their curriculum covers a combination of academic coursework and hands-on clinical experience. They earn their license to practice by passing the National Council Licensure Examination or NCLEX for their specific area of certification. Like paramedics, nurses are required to recertify periodically.

3. Salary and Job Opportunities

The average salary for paramedics is around $35,400, based on data from the Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS). For paramedics, job opportunities are available across numerous fields, including ambulatory healthcare services, general medical and surgical hospitals, and physician offices, with most jobs being available in California, New York, and Texas.

Nursing salaries vary greatly depending on your training and area of specialization. Licensed vocational nurses (LVN) and licensed practical nurses (LPN) earn an average of $41,150 annually, according to the BLS. Registered Nurses (RNs) earned an average of $73,300 annually. Job opportunities in general medical hospitals, clinics, physician offices, and nursing care facilities abound.

4. Job Scope

Paramedics are emergency first responders who arrive during an emergency. They often work under a great deal of pressure; a big part of their job is to assess the scope of the emergency, understand the condition of the patient, and ensure that the patient’s care team is informed of their condition so that all emergency frontliners attending to the case can administer proper care.

Depending on where they work, nurses also frequently work under a great deal of pressure. Other times, however, they are focused on follow-up patient care. Nurses have to be knowledgeable about general patient care, but they often specialize in a particular area.

Paramedics are often assigned a partner and don’t work alone. Once the patient is transported to the hospital or healthcare facility, they are handed over to the trauma team, which will include nurses who take over and act according to the patient information provided by the paramedic. From there, they confirm the initial diagnosis and administer additional treatment if necessary. Nurses also work very closely with doctors and collaborate to make sure the patient receives the appropriate care.

Making the Right Choice

If you’re passionate about helping people by becoming a dedicated member of the medical community, either could be an ideal profession for you. When choosing between becoming a paramedic or a nurse, consider your disposition and overall goals. How much time are you willing to dedicate to your studies? What are your short and long-term goals? What kind of access do you have to schools and training facilities? Consider the points above and learn more about available nursing and paramedic programs from HCI College.