Ambulance drivers are professionals who help medical teams transport patients to health care facilities quickly and safely. These individuals typically have excellent driving skills and an understanding of emergency response protocols to support medical professionals. Working as an ambulance driver can be a rewarding career, and learning more about this profession and the path to becoming one may help you determine if it’s the right job for you.
In this article, we define what an ambulance driver is, explain how they differ from EMTs, outline how to become an ambulance driver in eight steps, discuss essential skills for the job and review the salary and job outlook for these professionals.
What is an ambulance driver?
An ambulance driver is a certified professional who transports sick or injured people to hospitals and medical facilities for treatment. These individuals hold a license that enables them to operate ambulances. They typically drive to the pickup location, help load and unload patients and provide first aid and basic support when needed. Hospitals, fire departments and law enforcement agencies employ ambulance drivers. Here are some of the duties these professionals often complete:
Employ medical equipment to help load and unload patients into and out of the ambulance
Drive to pickup locations and medical facilities quickly and safely
Stock the ambulance with the necessary supplies before each shift
Assist paramedics during crisis calls
Inspect the vehicle before each shift to ensure it’s safe to operate
Clean the ambulance’s interior regularly and replace any soiled fabrics or supplies
Report any mechanical issues
Help carry patients into the medical facility for treatment
Use mapping technology to determine the most efficient route between locations
These professionals typically have expert driving skills. It’s important that ambulance drivers can respond appropriately to any hazards to keep the patient and medical team safe. Ambulance drivers may drive in heavy traffic, so it’s helpful to be comfortable navigating busy roads and taking detours when road conditions change.
Physical fitness may also be a benefit, as ambulance drivers might lift patients of various sizes in and out of the vehicle. They may also communicate verbally with patients, family members and medical professionals, so it’s helpful if drivers can take instructions and deliver information clearly and concisely.
Ambulance drivers vs. EMTs
Ambulance drivers operate emergency vehicles and provide assistance to emergency medical technicians (EMTs). EMTs are licensed professionals who evaluate and treat critical injuries and medical conditions. These professionals have formal health care training and operate the appropriate medical equipment. Ambulance drivers operate the emergency vehicle, while EMTs try to stabilize and care for a patient in critical condition. If equipped, they may assist with basic care tasks as well.
In the health care industry, licensed EMTs operate most ambulances. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), there are about 11,710 ambulance drivers and attendants without EMT licenses. In contrast, there are about 261,300 EMTs and paramedics. Some organizations employ emergency vehicle operators who strictly drive the ambulance and provide additional support, but many organizations prefer to hire licensed EMTs to drive and care for patients.
How to become an ambulance driver
Here are eight steps you can take to begin your career as an ambulance driver:
1. Reflect on your career goals
Ambulance drivers can work in the public or private sector, and it may be helpful to review your options to decide which is right for you. Ambulance drivers in the public sector may have a higher earning potential than those in the private sector. State requirements can vary, but public sector jobs often require formal credentials and previous experience as a professional driver. Public sector jobs may also require you to perform more emergency calls. Ambulances typically require at least one paramedic on board who can use complex medical equipment.
Conversely, private businesses that operate ambulances may be open to candidates with minimal professional experience. These ambulance drivers may answer lower-stakes calls, often helping transport patients in less critical conditions. Consider the differences between public and private sector ambulance driver jobs and research some employers in your area so you can pursue a path that aligns with your preferences.
2. Complete your education
Employers typically require ambulance drivers to hold at least a high school diploma or an equivalent credential. It might be helpful to take courses like biology, anatomy and advanced mathematics in high school to prepare you for a career in the health care industry. Some employers may prefer candidates with bachelor’s degrees, though it’s typically not a requirement for the job. Earning a bachelor’s degree could help you distinguish yourself from other candidates and increase your chances of career advancement in the future.
3. Secure a driver’s license
A valid driver’s license is essential for ambulance drivers. Most states require drivers to pass both a writing and practical driving test to earn their license. Consider enrolling in a driving course before taking your test. These courses teach new drivers about traffic laws and safety protocols. Some states expect ambulance drivers to pass an Emergency Vehicle Operator Course (EVOC) and hold an additional certification that allows them to drive an ambulance. Check your local guidelines to ensure you have all the licenses and certifications required for work in the field.
4. Pursue additional certifications
Most employers require ambulance drivers to hold either a certification in cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) or basic life support (BLS). These certifications show employers you’re trained to provide backup assistance to EMTs and other medical personnel. If the patient stops breathing, it’s important that you can help maintain their oxygen flow until they can get further medical assistance. CPR courses train you to provide oxygen safely and monitor the patient’s condition.
BLS accreditation is a slightly more advanced credential, typically intended for professionals working in the health care industry. BLS training includes CPR and equips you to respond to various other medical emergencies before reaching a clinic. Holding one of these certifications proves you have the expertise required to perform CPR or BLS during an emergency. To earn your certification, research options in your area and register for a course with a professional organization.
5. Obtain EMT training
While ambulance drivers occasionally assist EMTs with first aid and BLS, it’s important to note that these professions are different. Working as an EMT requires extensive medical training to ensure you’re capable of providing direct care to patients. Many employers prefer to hire EMTs to drive their ambulances, so it might be beneficial to pursue EMT training to expand your options.
Vocational schools and community colleges typically offer EMT training programs that allow you to practice your skills in a hands-on environment. Basic EMT courses train you to assess a patient’s condition and to manage respiratory, trauma and cardiac emergencies. Many programs consist of 120 to 150 credit hours and take approximately one to two years to complete, depending on how quickly you take your courses.
6. Earn an EVOC certificate
While it’s a legal requirement in only some states, an EVOC certificate could help you demonstrate your skills to employers. This 16-hour training course covers road safety, global positioning system (GPS) navigation and legal requirements for emergency drivers. Upon completion, students receive a card and certificate verifying their competency as an emergency vehicle operator. To qualify for the course, it’s typically necessary to have at least one year of emergency driving experience. After earning your certificate, you can plan to renew it at least once every four years.
7. Maintain a clean driving record
It’s vital to show employers that you’re a safe driver who abides by all traffic laws. It can be beneficial to uphold the law and mitigate risks on the road, even when operating your personal vehicle outside of work. Aim to keep a clean driving record that’s free from infractions. It may be helpful to get an appropriate amount of rest before driving, remain focused on the road and stay informed about closures, speed limits and regulations in your area.
8. Gain work experience
Many employers prefer candidates with at least one to two years of EMT and driving experience, so it’s helpful to gain professional experience if you’re able. Consider pursuing a job in the private sector, as some private businesses hire new emergency drivers and provide practical experience. Working as an ambulance driver in the private sector could help you expand your expertise and practice responding to various emergency situations while pursuing your EVOC certification and EMT credentials.
Essential skills for ambulance drivers
Below are some essential skills that ambulance drivers often use:
Ambulance drivers often make quick decisions in high-stakes situations, so it’s vital that these professionals can act with good judgment. The ability to review the facts of a situation objectively and come to a reasonable conclusion can benefit you in this career. Ambulance drivers typically transport patients facing time-sensitive conditions, so it’s helpful for drivers to make wise decisions efficiently.
An emergency vehicle can be a hectic environment, so it’s essential that the driver can stay focused. This may allow you to notice any hazards on the road, interpret traffic signs and monitor the status of a patient closely. People who can manage their emotions and remain calm under pressure may excel at this component of the job.
When driving an ambulance, you may choose to change the route in the middle of a trip to reach the facility quicker. It’s beneficial to be familiar with the area you drive in so you can route yourself effectively. Using navigation apps and GPS technology may help you find your way if unexpected circumstances arise.
Ambulance drivers work with a team of medical professionals, so interpersonal communication is a key skill. They may receive instructions from the care team and provide updates to the hospital or clinic to which they’re driving. The ability to give succinct updates and follow directions may help these drivers perform their tasks effectively.
Salary and job outlook for ambulance drivers
Ambulance drivers earn an average annual salary of $31,060 per year. Individual salaries typically depend on a variety of factors, such as location, employer and experience. If you’re interested in becoming an EMT who drives an ambulance, you could earn an average salary of about $49,367 per year. The BLS predicts that EMT jobs may grow 11% from 2020 to 2030, which is higher than average across all professions.