Paramedic vs. Nurse: Which is Right for You?

Each blog post is dated and contains accurate information as of that date. Certain information may have changed since the blog post publication date. If you would like to confirm the current accuracy of blog information, please visit our ABSN overview page or contact admissions at 866-892-1562.

There are many differences between paramedic vs. nurse professionals. A licensed paramedic responds to emergency calls for assistance and stabilizes patients while on route to the hospital. A nurse, also licensed, assesses, treats and educates patients. Nurses can specialize in many different areas and work in various settings.

nurse walking on sidewalk carrying bag

A healthcare career can be an ideal choice for the type of person who feels called to serve others in their community. Many types of healthcare careers, including emergency medical services and nursing, can allow you to make an impactful difference to people navigating difficult circumstances. If you feel driven to pursue a healthcare career, you might consider becoming either a paramedic or a nurse. Both of these professionals fulfill essential roles and both are healthcare careers, but they aren’t the same job.

What exactly is the difference between a paramedic vs. nurse, and which is right for your career? Here, we’ll explore the differences in the scope of job responsibilities, the types of paramedics and nurses, and the differences among job requirements. We’ll also look at the typical paramedic vs. nurse salary expectations and share how CSP Global’s Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing (ABSN) program could be the right option for those considering a nursing career.

What Is a Paramedic?

A paramedic is a type of emergency medical technician (EMT). Of the three types of EMTs, a paramedic is the most highly trained. When someone in the community suffers a medical emergency, paramedics are dispatched along with their EMT team to the location via an ambulance. Their job is to provide prehospital emergency medical care, which includes rapidly assessing the patient, delivering first aid and attempting to stabilize them while transporting them to the hospital.

Each situation that paramedics respond to is a little different, requiring these professionals to be able to think quickly on their feet, adapt to various (sometimes difficult) circumstances and work collaboratively as part of a team.

Both paramedics and nurses provide medical care, but some differences exist between paramedic vs. nursing job responsibilities. In general, paramedics may perform the following job responsibilities:

  • Responding to calls for help
  • Assessing patients’ condition via physical examinations and the use of medical diagnostic equipment, as well as by talking to nearby family members, if available
  • Provide life support, first aid and other stabilizing medical care
  • Transporting patients to nearby healthcare facilities
  • Documenting observations, treatments and other health issues for the health care staff at the medical facility
  • Sanitizing medical equipment and the ambulance after use and replacing medical supplies
nurse speaking with two doctors in white coats

Curious about the differences between a doctor vs. nurse? This career guide explains.

Types of Paramedics

Different types of paramedics exist. These categories are largely defined by the workplace setting. They are:

  • EMT paramedic: EMT paramedics work on an ambulance crew. When on duty, they must always be ready to rush to the location of an emergency. Medical emergencies can happen anywhere, including private homes and public spaces, and some medical emergencies involve more than one person. EMT paramedics must be ready to rapidly triage patients and provide stabilizing care.
  • Flight paramedic: As the job title suggests, a flight paramedic works as part of an EMT flight crew. Often, patients who are critically injured and need immediate life-saving care are flown to trauma centers rather than transported via ambulance. Flight paramedics are also essential for transporting patients who suffer medical emergencies in remote areas, such as in mountainous or desert areas.
  • Firefighter paramedic: Firefighter paramedics are both firefighters and paramedics. They must know how to operate fire suppression equipment, as well as how to save lives.

What Is a Nurse?

A registered nurse (RN) works in collaboration with other health care providers, including technicians, doctors and specialists, to assess patients, develop treatment plans, deliver medical care and evaluate patients’ progress. They provide a more complete spectrum of care than paramedics. Another important difference is that nurses emphasize patient and family caregiver education.

csp nursing students in sim lab

Nurses can work across a vast range of nursing specialties and within many different workplace settings. Their specific job duties are generally dictated by their specialty and workplace setting. In general, however, a nurse might do any of the following:

  • Assessments of individual patients, families, groups, communities, and populations
  • Medical history and symptom documentation
  • Medication and treatment administration
  • Plan of care development and implementation
  • Medical equipment set-up and operation
  • Patient and family caregiver education
  • Health promotion and illness prevention across the lifespan

Types of Nurses

Another notable difference between a paramedic vs. RN is that a nurse can choose from a much larger pool of specialization options. These nursing specialties include:

  • Oncology nurse
  • Pediatric nurse
  • Cardiac nurse
  • Critical care nurse
  • Emergency room nurse
  • School nurse
  • Public health nurse
  • Dermatology nurse
  • Bariatric nurse
  • Occupational health nurse
  • Forensic Nurse
  • Geriatric Nurse
  • Hospice Nurse

Nurses can work in different settings. In addition to hospitals and clinics, you’ll find nurses working in private corporations, insurance companies, medical evacuation flights, military bases, schools and public health departments.

A nursing career brings a world of possibilities. Explore nursing leadership roles here.

nurses at table looking at laptop

Paramedic vs. RN Educational Requirements

Other differences between paramedics and nurses include the career pathway. These professionals have different educational requirements that they must meet in order to practice.

To become a paramedic, you must:

  • Complete a non-degree or degree-conferring postsecondary educational program
  • Become certified in cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and basic life support (BLS)
  • Obtain state certification—requirements vary by state but generally include passing a national written exam and an experiential exam component and completing supervised field experience hours

The length of time it can take to become a paramedic often depends on state requirements. Some educational training programs are two years in length, whereas others last for four years if they confer a bachelor’s degree.

two CSP nursing students sitting and studying

To become an RN, you must:

  • Earn a nursing degree
  • Pass the NCLEX-RN® (licensure exam)
  • Obtain state licensure
  • Maintain licensure with continuing education credits, if required

Although all nurses must meet these basic requirements, they may not all follow the same path. For instance, a high school graduate might enroll in a four-year Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree program. A person with a prior non-nursing college education who is interested in switching to the nursing field might enroll in an Accelerated BSN (ABSN) program.

For example, the accelerated curriculum offered at CSP Global is designed to allow second-degree students and career switchers to graduate with a nursing degree in as few as 16 months.

Skills and Competencies for Paramedics vs. Nursing

The key competencies for these fields have some overlap. For example, both paramedics and nurses can benefit from having excellent emotional resilience, and both must be able to handle high-stress situations well and think on their feet. However, some differences exist.

To effectively complete their job, paramedics need:

  • Rapid triage skills
  • Practical medical training (e.g., knowing how to stop a hemorrhage)
  • Situational awareness and scene safety skills
  • Defensive driving and navigation skills
  • Ability to focus amid distractions
  • Physical strength

Nurses need the following skills and competencies for their day-to-day work:

  • Thorough assessment skills
  • Advanced knowledge of physiologic concepts
  • Patient education
  • Organizational skills
  • Accountability
  • Empathy and compassion
  • Attention to detail

Paramedic vs. Nurse: Career Outlook and Salary Comparisons

Additional aspects to consider when comparing these two careers are the job outlook and salary expectations. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the job growth rate for paramedics and other EMTs is expected to be 5%, faster than average, from 2022 through 2032. This indicates that employers expect to hire about 14,600 new paramedics and other EMTs during this period.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects the job growth rate for RNs from 2022 through 2032 to be 6%, faster again than average. This indicates that around 177,400 new nurses will be needed during this time.

What about the paramedic vs. nurse salary expectations? According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual salary for RNs as of May 2022 was $81,220. For paramedics at that same time, the median annual salary was $49,090.

nurse in front of sign

Which Career Is Right for You?

Now that you know the differences and similarities between these two professions, which one is right for you? The bottom line is that if you're driven to help others, then either healthcare career could be a great choice. However, you might feel motivated to choose nursing instead of being a paramedic if the following ring true:

  • You want the freedom to choose from a wide range of specialties
  • You want the flexibility to pursue work in various settings—from schools and camps to governmental agencies and beyond
  • You’re interested in future career advancement opportunities
  • You want to develop working relationships with patients that extend beyond a brief time
  • You’re interested in commanding a higher salary potential
nursing student in library reading a book

Ready to get started working toward a nursing career? Check out this guide on how to prepare for nursing school.

Begin Your Journey Toward a Healthcare Career

If you’ve decided that nursing is the right career for you, CSP Global is here to support you in your journey. If you have at least 54 non-nursing college credits, our ABSN program can allow you to graduate in as few as 16 months after meeting prerequisite course requirements. Plus, you can choose from three start dates per year and graduate ready to sit for the NCLEX-RN®. With a hybrid blend of online coursework, onsite skills labs and clinical experiences, you can receive an enriching and thorough nursing education.

Contact an admissions advisor today to find out whether our ABSN program in Portland, OR, or St. Paul, MN, is right for you.