Thursday, June 26, 2014

U.S. Secretary of Labor Connects with Foreign-Trained Health Care Workers

Thomas Perez talks with students in a Welcome Back class
U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez - the son of immigrants - offered encouragement to recent immigrants seeking jobs in the health care field during a visit Thursday to the San Diego Welcome Back Center at Grossmont College.

"What you're doing is important, not just for yourself, but for the community," Perez told a class of English learners. "We welcome you. We are a land of opportunity."

 The San Diego Welcome Back Center assists recent immigrants who have international training in health care fields, such as nurses, pharmacists and doctors, in obtaining California licensure.
During his afternoon visit, Perez also participated in a roundtable that included students and graduates of the Welcome Back Center program, and officials from Grossmont College, Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community College District, the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office and regional organizations allied with the center.
Perez shared his family’s story and their work in the health care field with the students. Perez’s father was a doctor and his four brothers and sisters are also physicians.
“My parents came here from the Dominican Republic,” Perez said. “Political upheaval in my parents’ family has certainly had an impact on my life…My family was a generation ahead of where you find yourself and I’m confident your children – should you have them – will say mom and dad changed our lives.”

Ann Durham, director of the Health Workforce Initiative and the San Diego Welcome Back Center, highlighted the purpose of the program, which received the 2011 E Pluribus Unum Prize for exceptional immigrant integration initiatives.

“Every successful Welcome Back Center participant increases the diversity of the healthcare workforce, helping to achieve the goal of reflecting the rich diversity in our community,” Durham said.
Welcome Back Center program participants include legal immigrants who received training and license in health care fields in their home countries. Many are also recent refugees of conflict, including Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan and Bosnia, among others. Helping these professionals obtain California licensure meets a critical need for cultural and linguistic diversity in the workplace.

Perez participates in a roundtable discussion
with Welcome Back students
“My mother wanted to be a pharmacist, but couldn’t do it and she passed away,” said Noor Khaiat, a pharmacist from Iraq. “My dream is to achieve that for her.”

Both of Khaiat’s two brothers are doctors in Iraq and they will immigrate to California soon. She immigrated to the United States two months ago with her father.

Grossmont College President Sunita V. Cooke, whose family emigrated from India after her mother was recruited to work as a nurse in the United States, noted that the Welcome Back Center has a larger impact than simply helping international health care workers obtain California licensure.

“This program makes a difference in the lives of individuals,” Cooke said. “But more than that, it makes a difference in our community, our nation and for generations to come.”
During his visit, one of several stops in San Diego that day, Perez also spoke about his expectation of success for program participants.

“I look at the determination in all of your eyes and I know that you will all succeed,” Perez said. “The best measure of how someone will succeed in the future is whether they have succeeded in the past. You have all succeeded in the past in your various fields and your various countries. I am confident that you will all succeed in the future as a result.”

About the Welcome Back Center

The San Diego Welcome Back Center, a program of the Health Workforce Initiative with the California Community College Chancellor's Office, is a one-stop resource center for internationally trained health care professionals. Since its inception in 2001, more than 3,600 foreign-trained medical professionals have found assistance through the San Diego Welcome Back Center.  Nearly 700 active participants are currently working with the center. For more information, visit