Often, a dream remains just that: a wished-for reality that is often deferred due to reality itself. Life intrudes. But, for hundreds of people across the country, the dream of becoming an emergency service provider has come true, thanks to an innovative program called Earn While You Learn.
American Medical Response (AMR) designed the program to facilitate the transition of those who wish to become EMS professionals. It is a paid, full-time, 8-to-10-week course with no out-of-pocket expenses for the students. This gives those who may not have been able to afford the time and required schooling that is the norm for EMS certification, the chance to pursue a well-paid and fulfilling career.
Upon graduation from the program, students are offered full-time employment by AMR or its affiliated ground ambulance companies. They become Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs), with the commensurate pay increase upon state certification, the exam for which is also paid for by the program.
Earn While You Learn began in Buffalo, New York, in 2018. The overwhelming response to that pilot program has led to similar opportunities at AMR operations in states across the United States. Students and graduates have come from myriad backgrounds but singularly rave about the program and the doors it has opened for them.
In Illinois, graduate Tyler Lindsey told the Effingham Daily News that he had been trying to pursue an EMS career for a while but ran into roadblocks. “I always wanted to be in emergency services and just really didn’t have the money to go to college to get the degree to become an EMT,” Lindsey said. After Earn While You Learn, his career has begun in earnest and the sky’s the limit. “I want to go as high as I can being an EMT then later on progress into a paramedic position,” he added.
Lindsey was so impressed with the program that he got his sister involved. Kristen Lindsey, a recent high-school graduate was looking for just this type of opportunity. “I was in a Health Occupations program in high school, and I knew I wanted to do something in the medical field,” she told the Daily News. “The fact that we can come in and learn, then do hands on is great. We are getting paid to learn the curriculum. I am more of hands-on learner, so I’m excited.”
In Tennessee, a young woman had a similar experience. Ashtyn Overton found her calling when, as a recent high school graduate, she set her sights on a career in EMS. She was working in her local volunteer fire department when she joined a crew responding to a cardiac-arrest call. “The call had gone out and the nurses looked at me and said, ‘Hey, we’re going to throw you into the fire on this one.` They knew I had this fascination, so pushing me in this direction was a big deal for me,” Overton told the Blount County Daily Times. A few weeks later, she signed up for Earn While You Learn and graduated in April of 2021.
The program offers careers for those just entering the work force, but also for those looking to take a new path in their lives. "I was like jumping up and down like a school kid with my hand in the air pick me pick me," Colby Blanton told WYMT Mountain News in Kentucky of his reaction to learning about Earn While You Learn. "I might be the oldest guy in class but I'm a big dreamer and I'm not gonna stop until I'm a flight paramedic," he added. Blanton graduated, was certified and is now on the job in Prestonburg, Ken. living his dream.
All who apply come by different paths, with different life experiences, but one goal, perhaps summed up best by recent Springfield, Mass., graduate Milena Colon: “My goal for me, I’ve always wanted to help people, especially my family, nieces and nephews and especially with the pandemic,” she told WWLP News.
Award-Winning Program Helps Communities
Earn While You Learn doesn’t just benefit those who graduate. The EMTs who graduate from the program become an integral part of the communities they serve whether that be responding to emergency calls or training citizens in bystander CPR. These individuals are ready to serve the community at a moment’s notice, no matter what that may look like.
AMR’s efforts in addressing the shortage of skilled EMTs were honored with an AMBY Award from the American Ambulance Association (AAA) in the program’s birthplace, Buffalo. The AMBYs recognize excellence in the ambulance profession and the ingenuity and entrepreneurial spirit that epitomize AAA members.
Buffalo Mayor, Byron Brown, has been a staunch supporter of the program since its inception and routinely takes time to visit local graduating classes. AMR Buffalo has graduated 56% women and 51% minorities since its inception.
“The groundbreaking Earn While You Learn program makes careers in emergency medical services more accessible and inclusive. This program opens the door to those who could never have gone through the training without a steady income stream and prepares them for a rewarding and well-paying career,” he said at a graduation event in 2020.