Carmel, New York native Tammi Booker was tired of feeling powerless, as she watched many of her family members deal with medical emergencies, including her mother and stepfather who encountered severe medical emergencies two years ago.
“I had always wanted to be in the medical field but didn’t have the finances to explore med school and school had never been my thing,” Booker said. “Once I learned there was something I could do — like get my mother to the hospital faster — I became intrigued … with hopes of being someone who would know what to do when a medical emergency happened next time.”
Compelled by the urge to save lives, Booker enrolled in the Learn While You Earn Program, a 10-week emergency medical technician (EMT) training program that launched at the west Bronx’s Hunter Ambulance this summer.
Booker, 27, is now one of the program’s 14 inaugural graduates-turned EMTs who received their certifications on Monday.
“A person’s quality of life shouldn’t be altered just because of timely fashion that people decide to care,” she said. “I wanted to make sure that I could provide medical assistance and qualitative support for anyone whenever they needed it, and this program has made that possible.”
The program was launched with the goal of graduating 80 soon-to-be EMTs into a workforce that is in the midst of a “crisis-level” labor shortage. Eligible for NYC residents age 18 and older who have at least a high school diploma or a GED, the program allows for paid on-the-job training while taking the necessary certification courses to become EMTs.
According to American Medical Response (AMR), a subsidiary of Global Medical Response (GMR) and a major partner in the program, “all training costs are covered, and upon successful completion of the program and obtaining their state certification, graduates are promoted to EMT-B with a competitive pay rate increase.”
Pat Pickering, regional director of AMR Metro New York, told the Times that six graduates apiece will spend one year with AMR and GMR, while two will work for Crowd Rx, which provides EMS services for events at Yankee Stadium and Madison Square Garden.
“How cool is it that you have two graduates from the Bronx getting a chance to work in their backyard at Yankee Stadium and getting a chance to contribute to their community by providing high-quality EMS service?” Pickering said. “I have been in the emergency medical services profession for more than 30 years and while the world has changed the tenets of the profession have not — the pandemic has shown us that there has never been a time when the call for caregiving has been so crucial.”
Through the Earn While Learn Program, AMR has graduated more than 500 EMS professionals through similar programs in locations in the Midwest and the South. Proponents of the program hope that the first wave of graduates through the program can contribute to a workforce shortage of EMTs in New York City.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, New York State EMT graduates and enrollees were down 30%.
“Despite the loss of jobs and the negative economic impact of COVID-19, some companies continue to create jobs and inclusive opportunities thanks to partnerships like the one we have with Global Medical Response,” said state Assemblyman Kenneth Burgos, who represents District 85 which encompasses the Hunts Point and Soundview sections of the Bronx. “The ‘Earn While You Learn’ program has been one that GMR has been able to implement nationally to fill the gap in the EMT shortage and create a pathway to a lifelong career.”
Booker, the Carmel native, will spend her first year as an EMT with AMR, but said her prospects range from a future as a paramedic to alternative career paths in the medical field.
“Initially, I thought I would take this path to be a paramedic, but through this course, I’ve been able to identify many paths for a career choice,” Booker said. “These 14 graduates are all family and we went through this course and are coming out ready to fill in where we are needed and provide help wherever we can.”
Dan Leibowitz, president and CEO of Hunter Ambulance, called the program’s first rollout “a success.”
“We feel the graduates are ready and will do a great job,” Leibowitz said. “Now (graduates) need to transfer what you learned in the classroom to saving real lives. It is important that the EMT stays calm and practices what they were taught.”
GMR is set to launch another 10-week program in New York City later this year, and applicants must apply by Dec. 1.
Reach Robbie Sequeira at [email protected] or (718) 260-4599. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter @bronxtimes and Facebook @bronxtimes.