LaGuardia Community College’s Welcome Back Center Helps Internationally Trained Health Professionals Join New York’s Healthcare Field

Long Island City—July 1, 2013—When Beauty Rahman Baten, a native of Bangladesh who trained as a nurse in Germany, immigrated to the United States she was hopeful that she would be able to find a nursing job.  Instead she found roadblocks.


“I didn’t know how to get recertified, I didn’t know which books I needed to prepare for the nursing exam,” said Ms. Baten, who only managed to work as a medical assistant.  “It was very frustrating.”


She then learned about the Welcome Back Center at LaGuardia Community College, the only center in New York State that guides internationally trained healthcare professionals through the state’s labyrinthine licensing process and provides them with the technical and English language skills they need to practice in New York.


So in the Fall of 2011 Ms. Baten enrolled in the free, eight-month program where she improved her English, boosted her reading level, reviewed the medical topics on the exam with nursing professors and was guided through the re-credentialing process.  After completing the program she passed her licensed practical nursing exam in June of 2012 and then went on to independently study for her RN licensing exam, which she also passed four months later. 


With her new credentials she was able to land a position as a psychiatric nurse at Queens Hospital Center. “Without the Welcome Back Center I would not have been able to pass the exam and get recertified,” said Ms. Baten.  “I never had this type of help and support in this country.”


“Many internationally trained healthcare professionals with significant experience from their native countries are forced, because of their limited knowledge of English and a lack of U.S. certification, to drive taxis, wait tables or work at low-level healthcare jobs,” said Mr. John Hunt, the center’s director.  “LaGuardia’s Welcome Back Center leverages the training, experience and language skills of these underemployed immigrant professionals and helps them to move from low-skilled to high-demand jobs in healthcare.”


When they first enroll, the center’s clients who are in the workforce make an average salary of $23,000 per year ($11.00 per hour). According to the 2010 Bureau of Labor Statistics, licensed practical nurses in the New York metropolitan region earn an average annual salary of $49,840, while registered nurses average $80,070 per year, meaning that for most clients, becoming re-licensed in the U.S. can represent a doubling or tripling of income within two years.


Since the center opened in 2010, over 350 foreign-trained medical professionals, mostly nurses, doctors and mental health professionals, have taken advantage of the center’s services.  The majority of the students come from Haiti, Ecuador, Colombia, the Dominican Republic and India.


Funding for center has come from the New York State Department of Education, the New York City Department of Small Business Services, The City University of New York and LaGuardia.


Dr. Gail O. Mellow, president of LaGuardia Community College, sees the Welcome Back Center playing a vital role when the Affordable Care Act is fully implemented next year.  “As more Americans are entitled to health care under the act, there will be an increased demand for trained medical professionals,” said Dr. Mellow.  “The Welcome Back Center will help to address that need by guiding internationally trained healthcare professionals into the country’s medical field.”


The nurses who come to the center to improve their command of English participate in an intensive eight-month training program based on the award-winning I-BEST model, which pairs basic skills instruction with technical instruction in integrated classes.  In this team-teaching environment, nursing faculty cover the LPN curriculum—anatomy, physiology, pharmacology as well as rule and regulations, and legal aspects—while an ESL instructor, who is also present in the classroom, works with the students on their language and study skills, vocabulary and content-related material.  The ESL instructor also pre-teaches vocabulary and introduces the students to topics they will be taught in the technical class.


Judith Neree, a Haitian-trained nurse who was working as a certified nurse aid (CNA) in a New Jersey nursing home for six years before enrolling in the program in 2011, hailed the team-teaching approach.  “While the nursing professor covered all the medical surgical techniques, the ESL instructor was there to review vocabulary and to ask the professor to clarify a term or concept that the students may have a problem understanding. The program was a life saver.”


“This approach is very different from the traditional method, which has a student first learn English in a conventional ESL class where the instruction is unrelated to healthcare, before applying to a training program,” said Ms. Beth Godley, the education coordinator.  “The center’s courses are contextualized toward their needs, which is a strong motivator because students now have a real goal.”


Stats support that claim.  The program enjoys a 98% completion rate and national studies have shown the I-BEST model to be effective at achieving such results in other workforce development programs. Pass rates on the NCLEX-PN certification exam for LaGuardia’s Welcome Back Center students have also been impressive, averaging 80% compared to the 44% national rate.


While the students are going through their training, the educational case manager is making sure their credentials are collected and sent to New York State authorities for validation.


“The process is a complicated one because we have to make sure that students fill out the credential verification applications correctly and ensure that the documents coming from the students’ countries are properly filled out and then directed to the correct parties in New York,” said Tania Ramirez, the center’s educational case manager.  “The certification process can take a minimum of six months to complete.  If there are errors on the part of the student or their nursing school/ licensing authority it can take up to a year or longer.”


After passing the LPN exam in June of 2012, Ms. Neree was promoted to an LPN at the nursing home where she worked part time while pursuing her RN training in a subsequent training course at LaGuardia.  “I cannot believe I am working as a nurse,” said Ms. Neree.  “And the nursing home will hire me as a RN when I get my certification.”


In addition to training nurses, the center also provides recertification advisement to physicians. This year additional funding allowed it to offer 18 doctors a three-month pilot I-BEST course that helped them prepare for the oral part of the American licensing exam.  This section of the four-part United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) requires the candidate to engage in a simulation of a doctor-patient exchange. Aided by a medical school graduate and an ESL instructor who team-taught the course, the students learned how to model the doctor-patient conversation, ask appropriate questions while reviewing terminology.


Anndy Dalangin-Clemente, a Filipino physician who immigrated to the U.S. in 2010, said that program bolstered her confidence.  “I strengthened my English and increased my medical knowledge,” said Ms. Dalangin-Clemente, who plans on taking the exam in a few months.  “It gave me hope that I can pass and one day practice medicine.”


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LaGuardia Community College located in Long Island City, Queens, was founded in 1971 as a bold experiment in opening the doors of higher education to all, and we proudly carry forward that legacy today. LaGuardia educates students through over 50 degree, certificate and continuing education programs, providing an inspiring place for students to achieve their dreams. Upon graduation, LaGuardia students’ lives are transformed as family income increases 17%, and students transfer to four-year colleges at three times the national average. Part of the City University of New York (CUNY), LaGuardia is a nationally recognized leader among community colleges for boundary-breaking success educating underserved students. At LaGuardia we imagine new ideas, create new curriculum and pioneer programs to make our community and our country stronger. Visit to learn more.