EFFINGHAM, Ill. (WAND) -- Nine Effingham students graduated from the first ever 'earn while you learn' academy, a program that gave students the opportunity to get on-the-job training while still in school.

"You're just out there to make a difference in the community at the same time as going to college," said Zachary Lindsey, a graduate of the program. 

"I've grown up in this community my entire life, so I'm excited to serve," Caitlyn Tinker, another graduate of the program, said.

The Abbot EMS program spanned eight weeks with 40 hours each week. All of the graduates are now EMT certified. 

"Effingham is one of our major operations in Illinois, and due to the EMT shortage in the area, we knew that we needed to step out and do something for our community," Heather Morse, regional director of Global Medical Response in southern Illinois, said.

"We needed more workers in the health care field, so this really bridged that gap in filling those spots and getting it done quickly and making sure that everyone is taken care of in our area," Tinker said.

The program provided a rare opportunity for students to get clinical driving of EMT vehicles while earning their certificate - something most students don't get to do until after schooling.

"Now that there's opportunities throughout EMS, I know there's a lot of people who want to be in emergency medical services, but don't know how to take that next step, and this kind of opened mine for me," Lindsey said.

"Our goal is to grow them into paramedics, which will then increase our paramedics that we will have in the area and increasing our service to our communities," Morse said.

All of the students are eligible to begin staffing EMT vehicles as paramedics in the coming weeks. 

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