Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Program Helps Internationally Trained Physicians Become RNs

Many foreign-trained medical doctors, who find it too difficult or expensive to obtain their physician’s license in the United States, opt to train as registered nurses instead.

Many physicians who come to the U.S. find it too expensive and the process too lengthy to obtain their licensing, and they are forced to take a job unrelated to health care in order to make ends meet. A new federally-funded program in California is working to change that, by offering these medical professionals a chance to stay in their chosen field.

Physicians and other internationally trained health care workers living in California can take advantage of a variety of options that will allow them to practice medicine in the United States through the Welcome Back Center. Since 2004, the Center has helped foreign-trained health care professionals with the education and licensing requirements needed to practice in America.

The Welcome Back Center works in conjunction with community colleges and state universities throughout California, assisting doctors, nurses, dentists and allied health care professionals with their transfer to the U.S. field of medicine. Since physicians have to go through the most difficult process to obtain their license, the center offers a special alternative program for international doctors to become nurses.

Laura Ann Fernea, MA, MPH, educational case manager for the Welcome Back Center, explained that foreign-trained doctors can use their extensive experience to become licensed as a nurse here in much less time then it would take for them to get re-licensed as a doctor.

“We assist internationally trained health care professionals to become licensed and available to work in the U.S. either in their own profession or a different one,” she explained. “We can help a doctor get licensed in an alternate profession, such as a nurse, using their previous educational experience in our doctors to-nurses program.”

The Welcome Back Center has a database of over 2,500 foreign health care professionals working in the state, and the doctors-to-nurses program has already graduated 100 students. The program is currently training their fourth class of foreign physicians to become nurses, with 31 students enrolled in the 14-month program.

There is an extensive interview and enrollment process for interested health care professionals, and Fernea estimates it takes the average student 12 to 18 months to get into the program.

Once enrolled, the doctors must complete a series of classes and requirements, including English proficiency tests, an introduction to the U.S. health care system and computer classes. These requirements are in addition to any other general education and nursing classes, Fernea said.

Before beginning the program, students must also provide all necessary transcripts, résumés and professional licensing tests they have taken to determine what educational course they need to take in order to become licensed. Once enrolled, they receive the full support of the staff including counseling, educational intervention, support groups and workshops.

The program also provides the graduates with the opportunity to secure a job while they are attending the course. They can rest assured that a job will be waiting for them upon completing their course and licensing requirements.

“During the coursework, they sign a contract with a hospital sponsor and then will work at that hospital once they are a licensed nurse,” Fernea said.

Utilizing the valuable skills of these un-tapped doctors is especially important during a time when the country faces a serious nursing shortage. The Welcome Back Center allows these doctors the opportunity to put their extensive knowledge and experience back to work again.

“We were able to get funding through the federal government for this program because of the shortage of nurses,” Fernea said. “We’re helping to provide more nurses to the community.”

Valentina Ruvalcaba, RN, and a licensed physician in Mexico, completed the doctor-to-nurse program last year. She heard about the Welcome Back Center from a friend, and couldn’t be happier with her decision to enroll in the program.

“The program is really good. You go for 14 months and then you are done; it’s a great program,” Ruvalcaba said.

As for making the transition from a doctor in one country to a nurse in the other, she said there was no difference for her.

“I didn’t mind at all,” she said. “As long as I am in the medical field, I am happy.”

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