Premed Gap Year Experience: EMT vs Scribe

Throughout my senior year of undergrad, I knew that I would be doing a gap year.  I also knew that I would have to take full advantage of this gap year in order to spruce up my medical school application and prepare myself for the next big step.  Eventually, I came to the conclusion that I would obtain clinical experience working either as an emergency medical technician or an ER scribe.  Which is a better experience for a premed, an EMT or a Medical Scribe?

I ended up choosing to be a scribe, and although working as an EMT is very exciting and beneficial, I believe that being a medical scribe is the better choice.

Here is why. 

Becoming certified

Originally I was leaning towards becoming an EMT.  I thought that working as an EMT would mean more hands-on work, directly translating into practical skills for my future in medicine.  Working as an EMT, however, had its drawbacks. 

First of all, you have to take a couple of months of coursework in order to become certified.  I had no problem taking a course, but fitting it into my extremely busy schedule and not being able to make money right off the bat posed some problems. 

Not only that, but the training course can range anywhere from $600 to over $1000. For a poor college student, this was not ideal.

On the other hand, becoming a scribe required no certification and all training was paid hourly.

Training process

To become an EMT you first need to obtain your CPR certificate. Then you will have to complete the actual EMT program. These range from 3 to 11 weeks depending on how accelerated the program is. Following the course, you will have to take a written and hands-on exam.

After you receive your certification, you can start looking for a job.

To become a scribe, all you need to do is find a job, apply, and interview. My company had us review a booklet with basic medical terminology and knowledge of EMR (Electronic Medical Record). We were then tested on this information.

The actual training process involved working alongside a skilled medical scribe for 5 shifts. During these training shifts, we were still paid.

Job Market

After doing some more research about working as an EMT, I found out that finding a good job without experience could be difficult (This is strictly speaking as a pre-med gap year job. In general, the demand for EMTs as a career is increasing above the national average)

Being an EMT with little experience meant working bad hours and seeing very little action. People tend to think you are seeing gunshot wounds and car crashes, but the reality is you are mostly transporting people from nursing homes.

Medical Scribes (especially ER scribes) are in high demand and you can easily get a job at a large trauma center where you will see lots of different patients.

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    Working as a scribe means minimal hands on experience, but ultimately practical doctoring education is more valuable for medical school.

    Even though your hands on experience is minimal, if you are working at a trauma center, you can expect to see a lot.  Remember, you are in the room with the doctor for everything.

    As an EMT you can expect to gain more hands-on experience.  As a new EMT, you won’t be doing CPR or saving people’s lives. You will be doing the least invasive calls and performing the least hands-on work.

    As a scribe, you document everything the doctor would need to write, which essentially forces you to think like the doctor.  This sort of knowledge directly relates to what you will be learning in medical school, something which EMS does not offer as effectively.

    Does being an EMT or Medical Scribe look better for medical school?

    Like most aspects of the medical school application, the answer is not simple.  Both jobs show a determination to continue your medical education and gain valuable experience.  However, medical schools love to see that you are experiencing what it is like to be a physician.

    Medical Schools want to know that you know what you are getting into.  They are trying to avoid physician burnout.

    Therefore, if you are planning to become an EMT in place of direct physician experience, medical schools will have a problem. But if you have already done a lot of shadowing and just want the extra experience, being an EMT is a benefit.

    That being said, overall being a medical scribe is more beneficial for your medical school application.

    Simply because all your experience revolves around essentially shadowing a doctor. You are learning to think like a physician and all the relevant terminology.


    I have no problems with the EMT route.  In fact, I would have loved to work in an ambulance and experience the thrill of helping save people’s lives.  I just knew that scribing would better prepare me for medical school and give me a more distinct feel for what life as a doctor is like.

    In addition to this, becoming a scribe involves less training.  This was important for me because at the time I was taking extra classes in order to bring my grades up.

    Have you worked as a scribe or EMT? Share your story in the comments below!

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      2 thoughts on “Premed Gap Year Experience: EMT vs Scribe”

      1. I am a high school senior and just became a certified EMT and I will begin working this year summer transitioning to college. I have been told by my city that they will pay and certify be as a paramedic after three years of working over breaks/summers. This is my plan to get experience for medical school, but now that I have heard of a medical scribe, I am wondering which one will be a better option for me?

        • Hi Danielle! Seems like you are in a unique position with this opportunity to become a paramedic before medical school. This post was comparing which option is in my opinion better given you are starting at an entry level position. As a paramedic you will get much more experience than you would as a EMT and medical schools will see this as an accomplishment. Plus the pay is better. Although scribing is a great experience, you should probably take advantage of this opportunity. Maybe you can find time to do both.


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