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Mass. ‘Earn While You Learn’ EMS program graduates its 1st class

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker joined the graduation ceremony over Zoom to thank the new EMTs for joining the healthcare workforce

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Valedictorian Jazmine Maldonado walks up to accept her EMT training certificate at the graduation of Worcester’s first American Medical Response Earn While You Learn student class.

Photo/Christine Peterson, Telegram & Gazette

Brian Lee
Telegram & Gazette, Worcester, Mass.

WORCESTER, Mass. — Gov. Charlie Baker said he wished he could have attended Tuesday’s graduation for 10 new EMTs in person, to give them high-fives and pose for selfies.

Through Zoom, Baker saluted the graduates of American Medical Response’s Earn While You Learn program. AMR is the parent company of Vital EMS in Worcester, where the graduates will serve as emergency medical technicans.

This was the first Earn While You Learn graduating class out of Worcester. The class began in December.

Baker thanked the graduates for helping fill a void of frontline healthcare workers at a time of great demand for their services. That void was felt even before the COVID-19 pandemic.

“If we ever wondered about how important our EMS teams were to us here in the commonwealth, and around the country, that question has been answered once and for all, as EMTs in many respects have been … especially important to saving lives as we worked our way through this global pandemic over the course of the past 10 or 11 months,” Baker said.

The program paid the 10 graduates to train as full-time EMTs. It also covered their test-taking fees.

The graduates became certified at the state level and move on to working on an ambulance at Vital EMS in Worcester.

Baker said he wished every industry offered the concept of AMR’s Earn While You Learn.

To the graduates, Baker said, “I want to say how grateful we are that you’ve chosen to step into this really important profession. This work here in the commonwealth, everywhere, is incredibly important, and as I said before, made more so by all the events of the past 10 months.”

The graduates were Karen Bullis of Holden, Shannon Cook of Worcester, Sheena Cossette of Worcester, Marianne Diaz of Worcester, Daniel Divirgilio of Grafton, valedictorian Jazmine Maldonado of Worcester, Michael Mulvey of Worcester, Emily Myers of East Brookfield, Denise St Croix of Millbury and Corinna Ward of Templeton.

After the graduation, Diaz, 29, said her reason for wanting to be an EMT was personal.

She said her best friend, who’s disabled, went into cardiac arrest last year, and Diaz and another friend took turns giving her CPR until paramedics arrived. The friend is in fine health today, Diaz said.

“It made me want to go into possibly saving other people’s lives,” said Diaz, who adds that she’s proud of herself for graduating after people doubted whether she could as a young mother of two children. Prior to the program, Diaz was a receptionist in a nursing home.

“If anybody wants to do this, don’t ever doubt yourself; you can do it,” she said.

Cossette, 35, said she worked a variety of jobs, supervising a Dollar Tree store, as well as in homecare, certified nursing assistant work and hospice care, prior to enrolling in Earn While You Learn.

Cossette said she was motivated to become an EMT by both her 7-year-old son, who had a heart transplant, and when medics briefly revived her 41-year-old brother.

“Even though it was unsuccessful, to me, that meant the world, that somebody cared enough to try and save my brother’s life, and I wanted very much to be part of that,” she said, adding that the program offered a “free education that’s going to last you a lifetime.”

Maldonado, 28, said she had worked in the medical field about 10 years prior to enrolling in the program.

“I started off as a CNA, and being able to look after the wellbeing of other people has always felt a special spot in my heart. Being able to make someone smile, comfort them, making sure they’re OK, has always been something that has been my passion.

“So once I saw the opportunity to become an EMT, and seeing that they were paying for this opportunity, I thought, why not apply and excel in the medical field.”

She added: “I learned a lot of new things, and I look forward to giving back to the community and making a change, even if it’s a little at a time.”

Maldonado said the governor’s personal message to the class “made me feel really honored,” while Cossette said, “It definitely sends a powerful message, to show we’re appreciated.”

The application deadline for the next crop of graduates is January 22. Apply at Classes in Worcester, Marlboro and Springfield start Feb. 8.

EMT and Paramedics Program Director Emily Chandler said the trainees are paid an hourly wage to attend classes during the 40-hour-a-week training program. All books, exam fees, certification costs and uniforms are covered. The only thing trainees are responsible for are boots and belts. Chandler said it’s an estimated savings of about $1,800.

Chandler said the graduates did a “phenomenal job” in the face of the pandemic.

“They didn’t waver. They were dedicated. They took everything we threw at them in stride, and they’re really motivated to become EMTs for the city.”

Because of the pandemic, Chandler said the program had to be creative to abide by COVID guidelines.

“We did lectures via Zoom in the mornings, and then in the afternoons they’re brought in, in small groups to do the practical sessions and learn the hands-on skills, so that way, we keep everybody safely distanced while still giving them all the material they need.”

Mayor Joseph Petty recognized AMR for creating the program.

“The graduates here are all recipients of a program that understands the barriers and roadblocks for people trying to pursue their education and professional goals. We know that these barriers exist disproportionately for our communities of color. Creating diversity and cultural competency in our first responders is not about political correctness; this is about providing the best possible service to our city’s residents and saving lives.”


(c)2021 Telegram & Gazette, Worcester, Mass.