By Megan M. Krischke, contributor
While legislators continue to debate visa regulations that might allow more immigrant nurses to enter the country, many health care leaders are concentrating on what can be done to help those who are already here. They are developing programs to equip these foreign-trained nurses to put their clinical skills back to work in the United States.
Participants in INRP programs to date have represented 15 countries including India, Philippines, Germany, Thailand and Russia.
These re-entry programs create a win-win situation by helping to meet the country’s ongoing demand for experienced nurses and by providing immigrants with a way out of minimum wage work and into the careers for which they were trained.
Indika Perera, RN, moved to the United States from Sri Lanka with her husband in January 2005 after obtaining a visa through the Green Card Lottery. While in Sri Lanka, Perera had worked as a medical-surgical nurse and also in cardiology and urology for six and a half years.
Living in California, Perera was working at a grocery store and volunteering at the Kaiser Permanente San Jose Medical Center when she heard about the Immigrant Nurse Re-entry Program (INRP) offered through Jewish Vocational Services (JVS). Although she had passed California’s NCLEX-RN exam and was applying for nursing positions, her lack of nursing experience in the U.S. was preventing her from being hired.
Perera was accepted into INRP’s first RN refresher course for foreign-trained nurses, which began last June. She completed the program and has been working as a medical-surgical nurse at Sherman Oaks Hospital near Los Angeles since December 2008.
“I only had experience in my country and I didn’t know anything about the U.S. health care system,” Perera said. “The JVS program helped me to get this job and they gave me so much confidence.”
“In the program we brushed up on our nursing skills and they helped with our communication skills and how to work well in the U.S. health care culture,” she continued. “After finishing the program they taught us how to apply for jobs, to interview, and told us what to wear and how to talk with the interviewers and everything. That is why I am here today. If it weren’t for the JVS program, I’d still be working at the grocery store.”
INRP was developed after government officials in California’s San Francisco Bay Area discovered that there were a number of underemployed foreign-educated nurses living in the area. This discovery coincided with the state’s growing need for more nurses—especially bicultural and bilingual nurses who could better serve the patient population. INRP partnered with JVS, which had been running a similar program through San Francisco City College since 1993, to develop their program in the East Bay at Chabot College.
Twenty nurses enrolled in the first RN refresher cohort at Chabot, with 18 completions, according to Annie Nogg, nursing program director at JVS. The second cycle will begin in May 2009 with 20 enrollments.
“Nearly 80 percent of graduates from last summer’s RN refresher program have secured employment as RNs,” said Nogg. “Most of those who found jobs are working in California hospitals, sub-acute facilities or skilled nursing facilities. A few graduates are working at hospitals in neighboring states.”
The program’s success rate is due in part to the organizers’ dedication to helping nurses through every step in the training and employment process.
“We offer what we call ‘wraparound services,’” explained Tim Combs, nursing sector manager with JVS. “We do what we can to help ensure that the students in our program are successful.”
“On the front end, we help them arrange for reliable transportation and childcare and help with finances if that is needed—just generally problem-solve to make sure students successfully complete the program,” explained Combs. “Then, after they have completed the program, we assist them with networking, interviewing and resume writing. After they have obtained a position we provide retention services to help them keep their job and offer advice on career advancement and salary negotiation.”
In order to enroll in INRP, students must demonstrate proficiency in the English language and have permission to work in the U.S.
In addition to these Bay Area programs, similar re-entry programs can be found across the country, including The Workforce Improvement with Immigrant Nurses program in Portland, Oregon, and the Licensure of Foreign-Trained Nursing Professionals Program in southern Maryland.
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