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Understanding EMT Shift Hours

Understanding EMT Shift Hours

One of the most important things to know about becoming an EMT or paramedic before you take the plunge is that as an emergency medical technician, your workday will look very different from those of conventional careers.

It’s impossible to schedule workdays in advance, as you never know what a shift will look like until you’re on it. You can’t plan for emergency calls or the severity of a particular scene.

You also have to be comfortable with non-traditional shift hours. The concept of a Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. job is out the window in this kind of position. But that doesn’t mean that you won’t work a full week. Here are four things to know about shift hours if you’re training to become an EMT or paramedic.

1. Every system is different. What works for some regions might not work in others. What works for some EMTs may be less effective for others. Understanding the specifics and nuances of a particular city or region’s shift system will often involve being directly in contact with that administration.

2. “Time on Task” or TOT numbers are averages. Estimates for time spent on a dispatched call are just that—estimates. They are averages, but every average has outliers. These TOT averages help to determine what types or lengths of shifts a department’s EMT squad will use in scheduling, but do not always factor in other time-consuming tasks including travel, return travel, vehicle check and restocking.

3. You might not punch out when you anticipate. There’s no way to know in advance how long a call will take. Just because you’re scheduled until, say, 6 p.m., doesn’t always mean you’ll be able to make it home for dinner by 6:30. That’s the life of being an EMT.

4. The 36-hour work schedule is one option. A common system is a 36-hour work week, which leaves a buffer zone before EMTs reach 40 hours and are considered to be working overtime. In 36-hour schedules, shifts often last 9 or 12 hours.

In rural areas or other regions with low call volume, a 48-hour workweek or 24-hour shift is another possibility, as the typical downtime allows for rest and sleep in between calls. For more shift information, click here.