By Debra Wood, RN, contributor
A need for more nurses, particularly those able to speak Spanish, has led a group of Texas hospitals to fund a new program to prepare Mexican nurses to work in U.S. hospitals.
“There is a shortage of competent nurses,” said Cindy Stout, MSN, RN, NEA-BC, chief nursing officer at Del Sol Medical Center in El Paso, Texas, one of several HCA-associated hospitals to provide a $100,000 grant to fund the HCA Central/West Texas-University of Texas at El Paso Bridge Program for Mexico Nurses to Increase Diversity. “The primary language of 75 percent of our patients is Spanish. We need nurses who can communicate well with the patients.”
More than 350 Mexican-educated nurses, living in the United States, applied for the free 15-week bridge program. The University of Texas at El Paso selected the most promising participants—25 in total—based on pre-established criteria. The nurses attended a daily program, emphasizing English competency and reviewing nursing knowledge and practice, to prepare them to take the Test of English as a Foreign Language exam and the NCLEX. They also take practice exams to become familiar with the testing format.
“Mexico is in a situation where they have more nurses than they can employ,” says Robert Anders, DrPh, APRN, CNAA, FAAN, dean of the School of Nursing at the University of Texas at El Paso. “Even though the numbers may show they need more nurses, because of the economic situation, a high percentage are unemployed and under employed. The same is true with physicians. Many of the Mexican-educated nurses have immigrated to the United States.”
Difficulty mastering English precludes many of the these foreign-educated nurses from passing the NCLEX and practicing as a nurse. Anders said many were under-employed, working as housekeepers or in food service.
“Most of them have baccalaureate degrees from recognized programs, but they need a boost to enter the job market,” Anders said.
The nurses agreed to work in Austin or El Paso at one of the funding partners: St. David’s HealthCare of Austin, a five-hospital system owned by St. David’s and HCA, and the Las Palmas and Del Sol Medical Centers, HCA facilities in El Paso.
“This was strategically part of our diversity initiative,” said Randy Stone, vice president of human resources for St. David’s HealthCare.
Stone said, initially, the team expected it would need to recruit Mexican residents for the program. However, it found plenty of applicants living in the El Paso area. The team did not need to work through any immigration issues.
“We’re very optimistic about it,” Stone said. “We will have additional Hispanic nurses who speak Spanish. The population in Austin is 35 percent Hispanic and growing. [The program] is an ideal opportunity.”
The university plans to offer the program again in the fall. This time, the nurses will be asked to pay a fee.
Anders recognizes the importance of bilingual, culturally competent nurses and thinks the country needs more of them. He said that less than 2 percent of the U.S. registered nurses are Hispanic, yet 14 percent of the U.S. population is Latino.
“Hopefully, this program will continue,” Anders said. “We have a lot of interest from Mexican universities working with us, because their graduates cannot find employment.”
© 2008. AMN Healthcare, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
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