After earning her RN and working for two years as a surgical nurse in the United Kingdom before moving to the U.S. with her American husband, Satwant Singh-Kurtz thought finding a job here would be easy.
I would try to contact local colleges and nursing boards there was never an answer, recalls Singh-Kurtz. Most of the time I was told I had been out of nursing for over five years and trained outside of the U.S., no-one would match my credentials. I was told to start all over and enter a four year nursing program.
Finally Singh-Kurtz enrolled in a yearlong medical assistant course because she wanted some type of access to the U.S. healthcare system. But after completing the training, the only medical jobs she was able to get, including working as a para-educator, paid poorly.
I felt they were using my training but I was not being paid enough, says Singh-Kurtz. Then I made a phone call to Tacoma Community College and they referred me to the Welcome Back Center.Satwant Singh, center, and her daughters
Sangeeta, left, and Japna.
Singh-Kurtz decided to take a chance, though it meant taking classes three nights a week and commuting 64 miles round trip while continuing with her day job.
I was able to take the state boards NCLEX-RN in December, and I passed, she said. Now I have my state license as an RN and am working as a program director for Tacoma Community College running a similar program and working very closely with the Welcome Back Center.Nurses from 14 different countries, all RN equivalent, licensed and experienced in their countries. Some are studying approved to take NCLEX, others in the process of getting approved.
The Welcome Back Center, which serves as an information and resource center for people who have received their education and training in a health field outside the U.S., is nonprofit. Its services are available for free.
We developed the program because we saw so many nurses whose skills were underutilized, says Kristina Mason, director of the Puget Sound Welcome Back Center at Highline Community College in Des Moines, Wash. They were being given a lot of incorrect information about what they had to do to become licensed, and sometimes they couldnt get any information at all.
Mason believes their program is successful because from the very beginning they studied the requirements international nurses needed to become licensed and they met with licensing boards to drill down on the details.
Its been a paramount that we understand the standards, so we guide our participants very carefully through all the licensing steps to make sure that they pass just like everyone else, says Jose Ramon Fernandez-Pena, Welcome Back Initiative director.
Another training program in the region is available to nurses with stories not unlike that of Singh-Kurtz.
Our program is designed for foreign-educated nurses who are now living permanently in the U.S. to help them pass the license exam and stay in this country, said Judith A. Andersen, RN, MS, Workforce Improvement for Immigrant Nurses Nursing Program director at Clackamas Community College in Milwaukie, Ore.
Andersen says theres a shortage of bilingual nurses, including an extreme need for bilingual nurse educators, and they help fill that need at WIIN, an Oregon State Board of Nursing approved re-entry program.
We dont recruit people from overseas. Instead we work with people who are living here and working below their professional level, people doing jobs not commensurate with their education and experience and who really want to get back to their career but often are told that they had to retake all those classes.Welcome Back Center participants, from left, Margaret Namata, Baguima Bayala, Nadezhda Pesotsky and Jagoda Pavlica.
Fulfilling an Ongoing Need
Both WIIN and Welcome Back organizers stress that theyre not just about helping nurses pass their licensure boards.
Its not something that they sign up for a year and then we wave goodbye, Andersen said. Some need to speak better English. Also, we steer them toward advanced education, help them understand how to get along with medical staff, and teach them the differences in practices and expectations so theyre out in the workforce faster.
As part of an effort to help international nurses become acclimatized to their new country, Fernandez-Pena says Welcome Back created a curriculum that introduces the nurses to U.S. health systems.
It looks at what type of professions that might not have existed in their country, he says. It teaches critical thinking, the culture of the medical profession and the culture of the workplace. We help them become integrated.
As much as organizations such as Welcome Back and WIIN helps nurses, Andersen marvels at what the nurses have to offer the healthcare system.
They bring diversity, theyre bi-lingual and they are highly motivated, she says. Many are not only working and taking care of their families here, they are sending money back home. Weve seen people double or triple their salaries, many have been through so much and now they have developed a sense of stability.
Thats certainly true for Singh-Kurtz.
I know without the help of Kris Mason, Kao Saecheo and my case-worker Kiet Vu, I would not have my RN license, says Singh-Kurtz. The Welcome Back Center in my opinion needs to be supported and expanded and noted for making my dream come true and I would encourage every internationally trained healthcare professional to take the first step and go and see the staff at the Center, they will be successful.