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Combating the shortage: High school students get hands-on EMT training

Kent Career Tech Center partnering with Life EMS Ambulance to support fairly new program
Kent County Tech Center EMT Program
Posted at 6:23 PM, Apr 20, 2022
and last updated 2022-04-20 19:28:47-04

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — It's a question many people are trying to answer across so many different industries right now: How do we combat staffing shortages? They can be seen just about everywhere during the pandemic, especially in the medical field.

However, there's a fairly new program at the Kent Career Tech Center, through a partnership with Life EMS Ambulance, that aims to address the issue through high school seniors.

"They get to see everything that a 911 responding ambulance would normally see," said Joe Johnson, the EMT instructor for the class and a critical care paramedic with Life EMS.

The program is basically brand new — this is only the second school year it's been in existence. It gives students hands-on training to become an Emergency Medical Technician, or EMT.

Johnson said, when we went through a class like this, it cost him around $2,000. These students get the chance to learn for free.

Elyzabeth Martinez, a certified EMT and KCTC graduate, said, “Without the not having to pay tuition, I wouldn’t have been able to take a course like this, or really even known that it was an option for me.”

Martinez graduated from the inaugural class in 2020–21.

It's a yearlong program only offered to high school seniors. There are two classes, with 24 students each. They meet five days a week, for two hours and fifteen minutes at a time.

They earn high school credit and learn everything you would in a normal EMT class.

This class was introduced during a time when there's a major shortage in the medical field.

Johnson said, “There have been fire departments whose first responders have had to wait a half hour for an ambulance to come during a person’s worst moment of their life. If this continues, through attrition, you’re not going to get an ambulance.”

EMS industry leaders report about 1,000 openings in the state, as staffing shortages continue to plague the industry during the pandemic.

Current students in the class want to change the narrative.

Taylor Fairchild, an EMT student and a senior at Caledonia High School, said, “All you hear about — all the nurses, especially with COVID and everything — people need help. We’re able to take a step up and help those people, help the community.”

Once the students complete the class, they have the option to become EMT certified. KCTC will pay for their first test.

Brookelynn Hacker, another EMT student who's a senior at Forest Hills Northern High School, said, “Wanting to take that test and actually get my licensure is a big deal because I am helping out the EMS community and taking off some of the stress that they have due to the shortage.”

Johnson said about half the students go on to become certified.

For those who do, Johnson said, "They’re able to hop on an ambulance right away. So with this being a college-level course, that gives them a head start on their career.”

Johnson said there is already a wait list for next year's classes. However, for anyone down the road who's interested in joining the program, they said you should speak with your high school counselor or visit

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