A national organization that helps foreign-trained medical professionals find their way through America’s licensing system intricacies, especially for nursing, has opened its first Midwest office in Chicago.
The Welcome Back Center (WBC), a national organization with a record of helping nurses trained outside the U.S. obtain state licenses in the U.S., has opened an office at the City Colleges of Chicago’s Velasquez Institute, 2800 S. Western Ave. Velasquez Institute is a satellite campus of Daley College.
At an Aug. 16 reception, regional health care professionals and City Colleges officials praised the collaborative effort that brought WBC to Chicago for improving career prospects for foreign-born nurses. Regional health care centers, especially those facing challenges in recruiting qualified nurses, and those working with underserved populations also will benefit, they said. WBC singled out Alivio Health Center, the Chicago Bilingual Nurse Consortium, City Colleges, and the City’s Office of New Americans for their work.
“We’re deeply committed to this,” Juan Salgado, Chicago City Colleges chancellor, said, adding that too many skilled immigrants have been forced to remain in low-paying occupations after arriving in Chicago when they could be contributing to the broader health care industry if they were able to obtain State licensing.
Nubia Willman, director of the City’s Office of New Americans, described WBC’s arrival as a “long time coming,” an effort that addresses the City’s need to help immigrants obtain needed credentials to continue doing work they love.
Numerous reports have alluded to problems medical centers face nationally in recruiting more nurses.
WBC will help those with professional nursing degrees from foreign schools by walking them through what they need to obtain a State of Illinois nursing license. WBC also will broaden the talent pool of nurses who are both qualified and culturally competent.
WBC began in 2001 on the west coast, where many immigrants with nursing degrees in particular faced significant challenges over licensing. Many worked in jobs with low wages just to make a living even though they wanted to return to nursing because, as WBC founder Jose Ramon Fernandez-Pena said, they simply could not get nursing jobs after arriving in the U.S.
Licensing systems present challenges because requirements may vary from one state to the next, even though all nurses must pass the National Licensing Exam (NCLEX) before being licensed.
With its new Chicago office, WBC will help nursing hopefuls understand how Illinois evaluates credentials earned abroad; what they can expect when taking the required English language proficiency exam; and how to prepare for the NCLEX.
Marzena Urbas-Alvarez shared her licensing experience with the audience. Trained and educated in Poland, Urbas-Alvarez worked there as a nurse for several years before arriving in the U.S. in the mid-1990s. She had hoped to resume her career, but was able to find work only as a waitress. Over time, opportunities in less skilled health occupations opened up, but without the necessary State license she could not go back to nursing. Only recently did she meet Illinois’s licensing standards and get her RN license.
State Rep. Theresa Mah (D-2nd) has worked in Springfield trying to ease immigrants’ difficulties in transferring professional credentials earned outside the U.S. to meet local standards. “This is a diverse group, with individuals who have many skills and talents as well as a strong sense of cultural sensitivity,” Mah said. “They’re a resource that we need to tap into.”
Program director Rob De Cortie said that, while WBC is based at Velasquez Institute, its services will be open to anyone in the city holding health care licenses earned abroad.
For more on the WBC. visit www.ccc.edu/welcomeback or call (773) 838-7847.