Emergency Medical Services Corps

Alameda County, California

Key strategies employed

  • Utilize a cohort training model focused on specific positions
  • Offer additional wrap around supports and soft skills training
  • Partner with a workforce intermediary
  • Connect programming to health system diversity and outreach goals

Mission of program

“Increase the number of underrepresented emergency medical technicians through youth development, mentorship, and job training.”


Emergency Medical Services Corps (EMS Corps), in Alameda County, California provides pathways to employment for individuals with histories of juvenile detention and incarceration, and helps to increase the diversity of the medical responder and health workforce. While EMS Corps is not a traditional intermediary-hospital partnership, the program highlights critical elements of local workforce development programming. EMS Corps is a five-month paid stipend program that provides Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) training to participants. The program puts an emphasis on training young men of color, a group underrepresented in the EMT profession. Participants receive training in: emergency medicine, professional development, life skills, and mental health education. Furthermore, they are provided with life coaching grounded in a behavioral change model.


EMS Corps began in 2008 as a result of efforts within the Alameda County juvenile justice system to train young men to be first responders, offering them an alternative to the cycle of incarceration. A collaboration between the public health department, Emergency Medical Services (EMS), and the Alameda County probation department, the training was initially a program at Camp Sweeney, a residential juvenile detention center. The program was funded through the EMS agency, which provided equipment, books, and instructors at a total cost of around $10,000 per year. After the first year, executive director Michael Gibson joined the effort and added components to the program, including: intensive case management, life coaching, and a behavioral change model. This is when the program started to gain traction and the health services department began thinking of how to scale and expand it.

In 2012, with a two-year $500,000 demonstration grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), EMS Corps was formed as a standalone program separate from Camp Sweeney. An existing community-based organization, Bay Area EMT, already provided EMS training for young people. EMS Corps began contracting with them, setting aside slots for EMS Corps participants in the courses already offered. EMS Corps pays for twenty to twenty-five of the forty spots in a class. Due to restrictions around release and probation, it is not possible to fill all twenty spots from Camp Sweeney, so the program opened up to include participants from across the county.

EMS Corps graduates

Program set-up

EMS Corps is open to men of color, ages eighteen to twenty-six. To be eligible for the program, applicants must have graduated from high school or have a GED equivalent and complete an application. Most participants are from East Oakland or Richmond, but the program is open to any county resident. The program itself is five months long and participants receive a stipend of $1,000 per month. In addition to EMT training, cohort members must participate in life coaching, health and wellness sessions, physical training, intensive case management, mentorship, and community service.

Staffing and budget

EMS Corps is staffed by an executive director, a full-time life coach, a full-time case manager, a career and job placement coordinator, and instructors employed through the training provider. The total annual budget is $515,000, with $200,000 going towards stipends for participants, and the remainder covering staff salaries and the cost of training.


EMS Corps was initially funded by the RWJF demonstration grant of $500,000, which covered two years. Upon the success of the demonstration period, the program was picked up by the Alameda County Health Care Services Agency and funded through a local county sales tax. As of July 2016, the program received three years of renewed funding.

Key strategies employed

Cohort training model targeted at specific positions

Twenty participants are enrolled in a cohort at a time. Participants are required to complete physical training and community service, as well as weekly life coaching sessions and healing circles, where participants focus on mental health and self-esteem. Group counseling and mentoring is critical to the program’s success, explains Gibson: “A lot of these young men, they come with low self-esteem, a lack of confidence…and [they] haven’t been dealing with this type of environment. We have to take them through a transformative process.”

However, this takes a substantial time investment beyond the hours of the EMT training. The monthly stipend covers this additional time and encourages cohort members to treat the program like they would a job, clarified Gibson. Given the intensity of the program, it is difficult to maintain outside employment, so the stipend is essential for ensuring participation.  Trainees also receive additional, as needed support, including: transportation passes, grocery gift cards, and connections to transitional housing services.


  • 9 cohorts
  • 140 graduates
  • 100 graduates that are currently working in the field
  • Starting wages: $14-$17/hr as an EMT

Specific position titles graduates are hired into

  • Emergency medical technicians
  • Healthcare technicians
  • Community health outreach workers
  • Health coaches
  • Emergency room techs
  • School-based health center EMTs (in development)
  • Skills instructors
  • Fire fighters
  • Oakland police officers
  • Bart police officers

Focus on additional wrap around supports & soft skills training

Gibson attributes the success of the program to the integration of the life coaching and the focus on personal growth, explaining: “Some of these young men do not see themselves living past the age of thirty. By the time they finish the program, they can see themselves living to eighty years old. You can see the change just in their attitude.” This anecdote is reflected in the program’s results. For example, participants from the juvenile justice system have a lower recidivism rate than their peers who do not complete the program.

Another form of support the program provides cohort members is a connection to other career advancement opportunities. “The EMT position is the entry-level position in the healthcare field, and a lot of our guys don’t stay EMTs very long,” explained Gibson. Many go on to get additional certifications in phlebotomy or ER tech, or they go to paramedic schools, college, or the fire academy. EMS Corps connects graduates to scholarship opportunities for these training programs, and helps participants cover certification costs.

Intermediary with network of multiple employers

EMS Corps employs a career and job placement coordinator whose primary responsibilities are to connect with employers, find placements for graduates, and track those graduates in their placements. EMS Corps works with multiple employment partners, which ensures a consistent placement rate, even as the number of graduates grows. Partners include: area hospitals, ambulance dispatchers, detox centers, and nursing facilities. Working with this array of partners also opens up career pathways in allied health professions more broadly. Gibson explains that they ask their graduates to think about “What else [they] could use [an] EMT certification for other than working on a traditional ambulance. That’s where the partners and agencies come in. For example, our detox center hires for jobs that were specifically designed for nurses but they are actually hiring our EMTs. It saves them significantly because they are no longer paying for someone with the level of training of a nurse, which is much more expensive.”

 Connected to health system diversity and outreach goals

As it stands, the healthcare workforce does not mirror community demographics. As Gibson notes, “The EMS workforce nationally is about 80 percent white. Even in Alameda County, the workforce is about 70 percent white, 8 percent African American and 9 percent Latino.” Hiring EMS Corps graduates can help institutions increase the diversity of the healthcare workforce, since participants are men of color. Gibson explains that having this representation can be really important for reducing stigma against young men of color. Moreover, graduates are ideal candidates for community health outreach work and other positions focused on addressing community health needs.

For more information


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Michael Gibson
Executive Director, EMS Corps
Emergency Medical Services
(510) 618-2025


Michael Gibson, interview by David Zuckerman and Katie Parker, December 14, 2015, transcript.


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