A new program to license foreign-educated nurses has tapped a gold mine of badly needed health care workers, Mesa Community College officials said.
More than 300 people have contacted the college about Enfermeras En Escalera, or Nurses on a Ladder, a three-semester program starting this fall that will give 20 students educated in Latin American countries fast-track courses toward licensure as registered nurses in the United States.
"Hospitals are spending thousands of dollars recruiting foreign nurses, yet we have individuals who are our neighbors, go to school with us, belong to the PTO, but for whatever reason, haven’t looked into being a nurse," said Bertha Sepulveda, coordinator of the MCC program. "We can begin helping nurses and help with the translation issue."
With health care facilities in dire need of Spanish-speaking nurses, Enfermeras En Escalera is trying to break down barriers that keep foreigneducated nurses from being licensed in Arizona.
Problems with language proficiency, cultural issues, finances and navigating the licensing process can stop many experienced nurses from working in the United States.
Guillermina Rodriguez of Mesa said she is interested in the MCC program.
Rodriguez, 45, went to nursing school for four years and worked as a nurse for five years in Guadalajara, Mexico, but said the cost of going back to school kept her from working as a nurse in the United States.
She took the cheaper route of becoming a certified nursing assistant, but wants to use more of her skills.
"Right now, I’m not allowed to do many things," she said. "I know more than a nurse assistant."
Applicants selected for the program will have their tuition covered by one of several health care providers in exchange for commitments to work for them.
They include Banner Desert Medical Center in Mesa, Chandler Regional Hospital, Maricopa Medical Center in Phoenix and Hospice of the Valley, which has facilities Valleywide.
"It’s really going to be a major benefit for hospitals, for the community and for nurses who want to become working, productive nurses," said Phill Westbrooks, director of education and recruitment for Catholic Healthcare West.
The company, which owns Chandler Regional Hospital and St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix, is doing career orientations at high schools while interviewing nurses in countries such as the Philippines, Korea, Canada and India.
"The magnitude of this crisis requires that we do comprehensive recruitment," said Westbrooks, who also is a Chandler councilman.
Only four programs like the one at MCC exist in the United States, said Lynn Milner, a spokeswoman for the college.
MCC’s program is the only one tied to an academic institution.
Enfermeras En Escalera, which is funded by a grant from the Arizona Community College Association, includes 12 courses covering American nursing practices, Englishlanguage skills and other topics to help students pass the licensing exam.
The program also provides mentoring and counseling by bilingual nurses, tutoring and other opportunities to help students who are not accustomed to the American academic system.
The college is waiting for word on a second grant, which would allow 20 more students to be admitted.
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For more information about Enfermas En Escalera, call (480) 461-7660.