April 9, 2004

Foreign nurses find work in Nashville

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Stelian Paul Bodea-Barothi, M.D.

Foreign nurses find work in Nashville

A new course at the School of Nursing is helping foreign nurses find work in Nashville. The course was created in partnership with the Vanderbilt English Language Center.

“The course will help nurses who were educated in their own countries to prepare to take the registered nurse licensing exams here, master English language skills, and help them learn to bridge cultural gaps in the United States health care system and their home countries,” said Linda Norman, D.S.N., senior associate dean of Academics at the School of Nursing.

News of the course has spread quickly and Norman said she is already fielding calls from interested foreign-educated nurses.

“I’m getting calls from all over. I heard from one woman in Jackson whose sister-in-law was educated in Turkey. I have no idea how she heard about it,” she said.

Dawn Turton, Ph.D., director of the English Language Center said they’ve been receiving calls also.

“Word of this course has really taken off. We’ve been getting calls and e-mails from overseas. One person in Singapore called saying they heard about it, even though we’ve done no official advertising,” Turton said.

The Refugee Services Program of the Metropolitan Social Services estimates that more than 95,000 people have immigrated to Davidson County, with the majority being Hispanic, Laotian and Kurdish, and representing more than two dozen different ethnic backgrounds.

Carol Etherington, M.S.N., who is known for her work in war-torn countries and is an active mentor to the refugee population in Nashville, said the idea for the course has been lingering for about three years.

“While conducting an assessment of foreign-born medical personnel working at the Medical Center and in compiling information, I met many people throughout Vanderbilt who were connected to someone in the community from a foreign country. Most of them were working in low-paying, menial jobs, largely due to their poor English skills,” Etherington said.

“With the nursing shortage, it seemed feasible to determine whether any of them had been nurses in their home country,” she added.

Etherington teamed up with Susan Barone, assistant director of Special Programs at the English Language Center to lay the groundwork for what has become the new course at Vanderbilt, designed to help people who were nurses in their home country become licensed to practice in the United States.

Since then 30 or more people who left behind careers in nursing in another country to follow a spouse to Vanderbilt for post-doctoral studies, fellowships, and other work have expressed interest in the program.

Norman said the course will eventually help any foreign-born nurse from the refugee or immigrant population find work here in the field of nursing.

“This will prepare them to work wherever they choose. They may want to work in a less acute setting as a first place of employment. A community hospital or a nursing home is a common first stop for foreign nurses, and nurses are needed in each and every one of these settings,” Norman said. “Whether they are here short-term or become permanent residents of the U.S., we want to help them be productive.”

“It’s an asset to Nashville to have them in health care here because we have a lot of different nationalities living here. This is a great service Vanderbilt is providing to the refugee population in Nashville,” Turton said.

“Having a program like this and utilizing skills of people who have already migrated to the United States and plan to remain here is a far more reasonable approach to enhancing the nursing pool than going to another country and recruiting them,” Etherington said.

Students interested in enrolling in the program must show proof of education in programs that are similar to U.S. registered nursing programs from their home country before beginning the six-week course. It’s designed to teach English language skills using a healthcare framework.

“We’ll cover the language aspects of the NCLEX test so they won’t be learning English just in terms of say, writing an essay, but rather we’ll use terms and phrases commonly used in nursing,” Turton said.

The course will cover language in the morning and nursing and clinical laboratory work in the afternoon, and will also focus on socialization issues foreign nurses will face in a Western system. Students in the course will use a textbook with a case study approach and role playing, and a series of videos will be used to help identify cultural issues.

“The main thing we try to do is look at the commonality in the background of each nurse, if there is any,” Barone said. “We will create an open forum for discussion from each nurse about their experiences and present what is going on in North America, giving them a true cross-cultural experience,” she added.

Hospital administrators will also have to adjust to socialization issues as the foreign nurses eventually join the nursing workforce.

“You can’t just have a didactic course. You have to have a place for them in the system,” Etherington said.

Marilyn Dubree, M.S.N., chief nursing officer and director of Patient Care Services at VUMC said the system here would support foreign nurses to help them do their best work and feel comfortable.

“The addition of competent clinical nurses to the workforce is highly valued by both hospital and nursing administrators. We must be committed to addressing issues that will support a successful professional experience for foreign nurses. Creating a sense of community in the workplace will be critical to these individual's success,” Dubree said.

The School of Nursing and the English Language Center are currently exploring ways to help students with the cost of the course, expected to be around $3,000.

“We’re working with a population that doesn’t have a lot of money and some of them will have to give up jobs in current positions to take the full-time course,” Turton said.

The course is expected to begin sometime in May. To offer funding assistance or learn more about enrolling, contact Norman’s office at: 343-3241, or the English Language Center at 322-2277.