One of the most frequent memes in EMS is that paramedics are certified, while nurses are licensed. The people who say this are misinformed. To understand why, we need to look at what the terms mean.

Certification, as it relates to this case, is the process whereby a person is said to have met a standard by a certifying authority. Certification is the process of publicly attesting that a specified quality or standard has been achieved or exceeded. Usually this standard includes education, experience, and an exam of knowledge, skills, and abilities needed to perform the job. When an individual meets the standard, he or she receives certification from a certifying agency. The credibility and integrity of the certifying agency determines whether the agency’s certification means anything to the public. Certification is usually a voluntary process.

Licensing is an involuntary process, whereby a governmental authority grants permission for an entity to perform a given act. Licensing it always based on the action of a legislative body. Once a licensing law has been passed it becomes illegal for anyone to engage in that occupation unless he or she has a license. The health care professions are typically licensed at the state and/or local level, but not usually at the federal level. The license may or may not require that the person seeking the license meet a standard. Requirements for licensing vary from state to state. For example: Driver’s licenses only require that a standard be met on initial issue, a fishing license has no requirements for a standard, and a Concealed Weapons permit usually requires meeting a standard.

This makes paramedic a license, just as nursing is a license.