Magazine article The Hispanic Outlook in Higher Education

Training Foreign-Trained Physicians to Become NURSES IN THE US

Magazine article The Hispanic Outlook in Higher Education

Training Foreign-Trained Physicians to Become NURSES IN THE US

Article excerpt

When many doctors move to the U.S. from foreign countries in Central and South America, the Caribbean and elsewhere, they are forbidden from practicing medicine. In order to become certified as a doctor in the U.S., these foreign-born physicians must complete a residency and pass the medicine licensure examination. Based on their own family obligations, many are forced to take less qualified jobs as nurse's assistants or phlebotomists, drawing blood, which are below their academic credentials.

Florida International University, a research university based in Miami, Florida, created a program, Foreign Educated Physicians to Bachelor of Science in Nursing and Master of Science in Nursing (BSN/MSN), that trains doctors to become nurse practitioners or registered nurses, drawing on their medical background and bilingual skills. The program enables them to stay in the medical field, earn a strong salary and assist patients.

Dr. Divina Grossman, a former dean at Florida International University (FIU), observed that the skills that many doctors had ob- tained in other countries were being wasted and lost. The program launched in 2001 and offered bachelor's degrees for registered nurses but was expanded in 2010-11 to specialize in master's degrees for nurse practitioners. The master's program lasts eight semesters or three years, and the undergraduate program lasts five semesters or a year and a half.

The program attracts students with "an amazing background, including a significant knowledge base of medicine, patients and health care," explained Maria Olenick, the chair of undergraduate nursing at FIU and its former director for three years. "Many of our students are looking for a second career option in healthcare," she noted.

Since all students have already trained as physicians, they are older, with an average age of 40 years old. Moreover, it attracts more men into nursing; in fact, 50 percent of the students are men.

The program is full-time, though some students continue to work in part time jobs and earn money to meet family obligations. Many need to save enough money, work part-time or take out loans to afford the $41,000 a year tuition for state residents and $90,800 for non-residents.

Gaining acceptance into the program is extremely competitive. Olenick said about 400 students applied for the 50 openings in 2015-16, so 80 percent are rejected. Though Cuba and Haiti are the countries that produce the most students in the program, students hail from China, Czechoslovakia and more than 30 countries. Latinos comprise about 40 percent of all students.

To be accepted, students must present their translated transcripts from medical college, equivalent of a U.S. bachelor's degree, and pass an English language exam or two English classes in the U.S. Their grades and academic performance are evaluated, and they are interviewed. "We're looking for professionals who have a capacity to communicate in English, who have interest and motivation, and are ready to take the plunge into a full-time curriculum," Olenick noted.

All 30 students are aiming for a master's degree in nursing. The ones who stop at the bachelor's degree level aren't successful in the program or didn't pass their registered nursing exam.

But don't many students who are trained as physicians feel that becoming a nurse practitioner is below their status? Olenick acknowledged that some students can be disappointed and even angry at the outset.

"But most after a semester and a half turn around and say, 'I didn't want to do it, but now I love it,"' she said. Most are grateful at gaining a second chance at helping others in the healthcare field and expanding their knowledge into a new field. …

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