Center helps foreign nationals retrain in their specialties

GROSSMONT COLLEGE (Press Release)–They came to the United States as refugees and immigrants with the skills and training to help others, but without the license they need to pursue a career. Despite their years of education, they often end up in low-paying jobs.

Since it opened in 2001, the San Diego Welcome Back Center has served more than 3,600 internationally-trained doctors, nurses and healthcare professionals seeking medical healthcare careers after immigrating to the United States. The center provides orientation, consulting and support for internationally-trained health care professionals, and has helped participants from 93 countries. All foreign-trained health workers in California are eligible.

The Welcome Back Center, in partnership with the Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community College District, will honor 176 students on Wednesday, May 2 who have completed their courses to help prepare them for state licensing tests that will enable them to work in their chosen fields. The recognition ceremony will be held from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the Griffin Center on the Grossmont College campus.

Matielve Carrasco, a nurse from Mexico City, came to San Diego in 2007. After her training at the Welcome Back Center, she’s worked as a nurse at Kaiser Permanente and at community clinics. She said it’s important to have healthcare professionals who can speak their patients’ language.

“If we have better communication, the patient is going to be discharged with a better outcome,” Carrasco said. “There are fewer mistakes because the patient understands what we are telling them.”

This year, for the first time, those being recognized at the event will also include 17 engineering students who completed a 10-week review program.

One of the engineering students to be honored is Issam Mikha, who came to the United States from Iraq in 2009. Mikha said that although he was a civil engineer in Iraq, he was unable to find work here. Through the Welcome Back Center, he got a full-time volunteer position mapping flood plains for the San Diego County Department of Public Works, and was named Volunteer of the Year this year. The Welcome Back Center helped guide him toward renewing his engineering career in his new home, Mikha said.

“They introduced me to the job requirements, and showed me how to apply for jobs and how to search for them,” he said.

San Diego’s Welcome Back Center is just one of two such centers in California (the other is in San Francisco), and is among nine training centers nationwide. The center is located at a Kaiser Permanente medical facility in Bonita.

When Kaiser Permanente is hiring, they have hired about 30 percent of Welcome Back foreign-trained graduates who have passed their state nursing board exam, said Gail Patterson, San Diego Welcome Back Center’s project manager. The center is operated through the Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community College Auxiliary and Welcome Back Center classes are held at Grossmont and Cuyamaca colleges.

The need for a diversity of healthcare workers is increasing as California becomes more ethnically and culturally diverse.

“This is a win-win for our students and for the community,” Patterson said. “They get to use their skills that they’ve been trained for, and their patients get a healthcare professional who understands their language and culture.”

Preceding provided by Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community College District public information office