Champions of Change

José Ramón Fernández-Peña

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Since 2001 the Welcome Back Initiative (WBI) has been helping foreign-trained health professionals living in the U.S. integrate into the American health care system. It assists them to move from such lower-skilled jobs as nursing assistants, taxi drivers, or laborers into health professions that make greater use of their training and experience. These professionals fill vacancies in high-demand occupations, such as nurses, doctors, allied health professionals, and researchers. They also improve health resources in medically underserved and minority communities, particularly when they share the language or culture of their patients.

The Initiative is comprised of nine affiliated WBI, with San Francisco’s Center serving as its founder and lead site. Centers are independent, yet share a core model: (1) Counselors help participants set professional goals, navigate the credential evaluation and licensing processes, and access educational resources; (2) Centers help participants access courses to strengthen their English skills, orient them to the U.S. health care system, prepare for licensing exams, and meet occupation-specific educational requirements; (3) Centers encourage participants to seek opportunities to learn about the U.S. health care system first-hand, update clinical knowledge, and garner references; (4) Centers work with policymakers, regulators, employers, and educators to streamline licensing processes while maintaining professional standards.

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