New Mass. EMTs graduate from paid training program
AMR’s Earn While You Learn program has seen success in addressing the shortage of EMS personnel
By Jeanette DeForge
SPRINGFIELD, Mass. — Angel Sanchez of Springfield was always interested in emergency medicine, but his fears of taking on such a big responsibility — while raising a young son — made it a no-go.
But being accepted into an ambulance company’s Earn While You Learn EMT program made the difference. The program paid him for a 40-hour week, so he didn’t have to try to fit in classes on top of a regular job and family responsibilities. The company guaranteed him a job upon graduation.
On Monday, Sanchez and 15 of his classmates finished a 12-week course and received their EMT certifications. The graduates now begin on-the-job training as official employees of the company, AMR.
“I’ve wanted to do EMS for a while, but I was scared to do it, being responsible for someone’s life,” Sanchez said.
A friend graduated from an earlier class and suggested the program. That recommendation, plus the fact that the company covers tuition, books, uniforms and provides a $16.50-an-hour pay rate, gave Sanchez the confidence to apply.
The program began in Springfield in 2019 as a way to address the shortage of healthcare workers. Its 11th class graduated Monday. It has proven to be such a success that AMR expanded it to its other headquarters, in Worcester and Marlboro, said Emily Chandler , Massachusetts program manager for AMR.
AMR employs about 415 people in Springfield. It created the program to recruit and retain hard-to-find EMTs. While the classes do not fill all staffing needs, they help, she said.
When people sign up, they commit to the 12-week program that runs five days and week and every other weekend. They also agree to work for AMR for a year, although 93% of the graduates are still working for the company, said Patrick Leonardo, AMR regional director for Massachusetts.
The class has proven popular, with 150 to 200 people applying for the program’s 20 slots every time it is offered. A majority of applicants are people like Sanchez, who learned about the program from an EMT who has gone through it and recommended it, he said.
There are advantages for AMR in offering its own classes. Students build a familiarity with AMR and a camaraderie with its employees. Certification standards are the same in all classes, but AMR can add in elements such as teaching students how to safely drive an ambulance — and general company policies and procedures, Chandler said.
Evelyn Quinones, of Southwick, holds a bachelor’s degree and has studied to be a pharmacist and works as a cardiac monitoring technician at Baystate Medical Center. She realized she wanted to work in emergency medicine.
“I want to be a ground or flight medic and AMR gave me the tools to get started on that,” she said.
Quinones, who continues to work at Baystate, said she is paying back college loans so she couldn’t finance an EMT course. The Earn While You Learn classes were ideal.
“There were a lot of ups and downs in the class but I already knew the medical terminology, so that made it easier,” she said.
Quinones said she is looking forward to starting to work on the ambulance and at the same time is hoping to continue her education by taking a paramedic class that follows the same model.
Based on the success of the EMT course, AMR began a paramedic course in 2021 so existing employees can further their education. Students also pay no tuition and continue to earn their salary when they are studying, Chandler said.
At the graduation, Deputy Police Chief Rupert Daniel, Deputy Fire Chief David Wells and Dr. Seth Kelly, of Baystate Medical Center, all talked about the vital role EMTs play.
“Think about it. You people signed up to save people’s lives. It doesn’t get any better,” Daniel said.
Mayor Domenic J. Sarno thanked the graduates and their families for providing the support they needed so they could pass the courses and excel in their new jobs.
“I appreciate what you do. I don’t envy what you do,” he said. He said it takes a lot to be willing to help people day after day, on what might be the worst day of their lives.
The graduates applauded when their instructor, Randy Rameau, took the podium. He told the students they now have the medical training to start their careers.
“Remember, always treat patients with dignity, respect and a great deal of empathy,” he said.