GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A local ambulance service is reaching into area high schools for part of the solution to the growing EMT and paramedic shortage.

Working with the Kent Intermediate School District, Life EMS has been able to build a sort of pipeline of future emergency medical technicians and paramedics.

Elyzabeth Martinez walked out of C.A. Frost Environmental Science Middle High and the Kent Career Tech Center with her diploma and into a career in emergency medical services. It wasn’t her original career path.

“Before COVID, I was planning on going to cosmetology school,” Martinez said.

Elyzabeth Martinez became certified as an EMT through the Kent Career Tech Center. (Aug. 19, 2021)

She is among the first graduates of the Kent ISD’s EMT program. Working with instructors from LIFE EMS, the program immerses high school students in the world of EMS. They learn everything from how to treat everything from an asthma attack to traumatic injuries.

“Medication administration, and we learned how to put in airways for patients that might need help breathing, how to use AEDs,” Martinez described the program. “It was amazing not only the support we had towards getting our EMT licenses, but also towards getting our normal schoolwork done. We had resources that were available to us to make sure we were able to balance the two.”

The program got underway last year, and it couldn’t have come at a better time. According to the Michigan Association of Ambulance Services, there are over 1,000 openings for licensed EMT and paramedics statewide. The shortage has impacted EMS services large and small, public and private, across the U.S. Recruitment is one of the biggest challenges.

“Everybody’s short of people. So our ability to recruit from other areas and other agencies is so limited, we knew we had to take the step to really grow our own high-quality workforce,” Life EMS President Mark Meijer said.

Fifty people graduated from the program this spring. Another 50 are expected to finish this year.

While it’s not the first high school-based EMT program in the county, the Kent Career Tech Center program greatly expands the reach.

“What this does is helps us serve the county. All of our students come from all over the county, whether it’s as far north as Kent City or as far south as … Thornapple Kellogg,” Kent ISD Community-Parent Liaison Ryan Graham said.

Right now, Martinez is assigned to an nonemergency transport van, but she’ll soon be riding, lights and sirens, to emergency calls on a full-service ambulance as an EMT. She’s also expected to begin paramedic training soon. At only 18, her career path is set.

“I love it so much. I love the patient care,” Martinez said. “I love the variety of calls I get to see. I love being able to make connection with patients. I love it. It’s the best.”