Certified nurse aides or assistants and emergency medical technicians, commonly known as CNAs and EMTs, may care for the same patient but in vastly different circumstances. The CNA works in a warm, clean, well-lighted hospital or nursing home, while the EMT may be on his knees in mud on a rainy night helping an automobile accident victim. Both, however, need training, experience and compassion to perform their jobs.
CNAs provide basic care under supervision of a registered nurse or physician. Their tasks include feeding, bathing or repositioning patients, as well as helping them eat, dress or use the toilet. In some states, CNAs may also give medications after specialized training. EMTs are "first responders,” meaning they are often the first medical personnel on the scene of an emergency after a 911 call. They may help extricate patients from crushed vehicles, provide medical care such as bandaging a wound or cardiopulmonary resuscitation, and help transport patients to the hospital. They may also drive the ambulance.
Neither CNAs nor EMTs are required to have a degree beyond a high school diploma. CNAs must complete a training course at a community college, technical or vocational school, for which they earn a certificate or award, and pass a competency exam. EMTs also receive their training at community colleges, technical and vocational schools. They may train at three levels, each of increasing complexity: EMT basic, EMT Intermediate 1985 or EMT Intermediate 1999, also called the Advanced EMT. Advanced EMTs may insert intravenous lines and administer some medications.
Although requirements vary from state to state, CNAs are not usually licensed. In some states, CNAs must be listed on a state registry to work in nursing homes or other facilities. EMTs are required to be licensed in all states, although the specific requirements for licensure vary. In addition, some states have separate licensure requirements for EMTs who drive an ambulance. The EMT may need to complete additional training to obtain the special license.
Most CNAs work in nursing homes and residential care facilities, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Some work in hospitals; others work in home care or hospice. In rural areas or small towns, EMTs may be volunteers and have a separate income-producing job. EMTs also work as employees of ambulance services and may work for local governments or hospitals. The work of CNAs and EMTs can be physically strenuous, especially for EMTs, who may need to lift and carry patients on transport boards or climb down embankments to reach accident victims.
Job Outlook and Salaries
The job outlook for both CNAs and EMTs is good. The BLS expects demand for nurse aides to grow by 20 percent between 2010 and 2020, while EMT jobs are expected to grow by 33 percent during the same period. The average annual salary for an EMT was $34,030 in 2011, according to the BLS. The average salary for a nurse aide was $25,420 -- the BLS does not track CNAs separately but groups them with nurse aides, orderlies and nursing assistants.
2016 Salary Information for EMTs and Paramedics
Emts and paramedics earned a median annual salary of $32,670 in 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. On the low end, emts and paramedics earned a 25th percentile salary of $25,850, meaning 75 percent earned more than this amount. The 75th percentile salary is $42,710, meaning 25 percent earn more. In 2016, 248,000 people were employed in the U.S. as emts and paramedics.
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Nursing Aides, Orderlies, and Attendants
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: EMTs and Paramedics
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2011 29-2041 Emergency Medical Technicians and Paramedics
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2011 31-1012 Nursing Aides, Orderlies, and Attendants
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Outlook Handbook: EMTs and Paramedics
- Career Trend: EMTs and Paramedics
Beth Greenwood is an RN and has been a writer since 2010. She specializes in medical and health topics, as well as career articles about health care professions. Greenwood holds an Associate of Science in nursing from Shasta College.