When David Ramos attended a City Academy info session at the community health center where he worked, he couldn’t quite believe the sales pitch: Free job training to become an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT)? A path to working for Boston EMS for good wages, benefits, and opportunities for advancement?

“City Academy was perfect because I could take this course without having to come up with the money to pay for it,” Ramos said. “But at the time, it seemed too good to be true. I didn’t believe that in 16 months I’d be able to do that kind of job [as an EMT]. There’s so much to learn.”

Ramos, then 24, had been interested in becoming an EMT for five years. During that time, he had worked the same full-time job as a phlebotomist and hustled to make money on the side driving for rideshare companies. He wanted to continue caring for patients, but found that phlebotomy didn’t offer a path to better healthcare positions. He had some college experience, but not a degree: Working full-time, studying, and trying to pay for tuition all at the same time had just been too overwhelming.

So he took a leap of faith and in Summer 2020 applied to City Academy to pursue his dream of becoming an EMT. His girlfriend, whom he shared an apartment with in East Boston, just hoped he knew what he was doing.

Ramos presents Boston Mayor Michelle Wu with a Boston EMS T-shirt.

As a free program, City Academy would be far more doable than college had been. But that didn’t mean it would be easy. To make it work, Ramos switched to a new phlebotomist position at a hospital to better accommodate his schedule. He worked full-time during the day, attended virtual City Academy classes several evenings a week, and joined hands-on practical sessions with Boston EMS every other weekend so he could practice administering CPR, fashioning splints for broken bones, and making split-second medical assessments.

“I went to every available study session or practical session,” Ramos said. “It wasn’t just to pass the class. It was because I didn’t want to get to the point of needing to help someone and then not know how to do it.”

Along the way, Ramos met City Academy graduates who traveled the same journey and were now licensed EMTs. As he learned to trust the program, he trusted himself more, too. In college, he used to believe he just wasn’t a very good student. This time around, he soaked up everything he could learn about improving his study skills – both from the course instructor and his classmates. If another student aced a test, Ramos wasn’t shy about asking how they’d done it. Whatever worked for them, he tried – from memorizing bit-by-bit, to taking notes and returning to them later – and often found those tricks worked for him, too.

“What motivated me the most was knowing this was a great career and the money was good, too,” Ramos said. “It was worth the sacrifice. I just thought, ‘Gotta keep grinding.’”

By Fall 2021, Ramos had passed the written and practical exams required for his EMT license, and this spring, completed the Boston EMS Recruit Academy to officially become a full-time staff EMT.

In his Recruit Academy graduation speech, Ramos thanked his fellow recruits for the support and camaraderie that brought them to the completion of their goal: “We held each other accountable and made sure that we all leveled up together.”

Ramos delivering the graduation speech for his recruit class at the Boston EMS Recruit Academy graduation on May 16, 2022.

Today, Ramos responds to calls across the City of Boston, providing residents with crucial care in the midst of the fear and trauma of medical emergencies. He says his extensive training has given him a sense of calm and confidence on the job. Whether it’s helping someone in respiratory distress or stabilizing a person’s low blood sugar, he knows what to do.

And in the process of helping Boston’s residents, Ramos is now in a better position to help himself and his girlfriend – now, his wife.

“It’s like night and day, honestly,” he said of life before and after City Academy. “Before, I was definitely at a point where the essentials were met with a lot of sacrifice. Now, I can put gas in my car and not think twice about it. I have the essentials and can plan for more – possibly moving to a bigger apartment or thinking about having kids. Even the thought of owning a home in Boston is not so out of this world. It’s opened up a lot of different things that before would have seemed impossible.”

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