February 24, 2006

Program Increasing Diversity in San Diego’s Health Care Work Force to Expand

A program to integrate internationally trained health professionals into San Diego and Imperial counties’ health care work force was given a financial boost to expand the program’s reach, The California Endowment announced. The statewide health foundation awarded a two-year, $769,224 grant to Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community College District which will use the new funds to replicate the integration of the program at local universities, colleges and regional adult schools. In addition, funds will be used to help eliminate the systemic barriers that prevent the successful integration of these health professionals into California’s health care work force.

Called the “San Diego Welcome Back Center,” the program is part of a statewide initiative that provides internationally trained health professionals residing legally in California with a variety of supportive services and training curricula to help them overcome the barriers they encounter when trying to gain entry into the state’s health care work force.

Since 2001, The Endowment has provided more than $2.3 million to develop and implement the program in San Diego, which has served approximately 1,570 internationally trained physicians, nurses, dentists and allied health professionals. These funds will help increase the availability of culturally and linguistically competent providers who provide care for under-served and minority patients in San Diego, and will create new career pathways for participants by developing new programs for positions such as Certified Medication Technicians and Anesthesia Technicians.

Due to licensure and accrediting requirements, many internationally trained health professionals encounter significant obstacles to employment in the U.S. health care system. This often results in them abandoning their health care careers.

“The reality is that many of these individuals end up as cab drivers and hotel maids,” said Bob Yarris, who spearheads the Welcome Back Center program for Grossmont-Cuyamaca College District. “But we’re changing that so that these individuals can help fill the void of diverse health care professionals we so desperately need in San Diego and Imperial counties.”

The nursing work force in this region, for example, is more than 70 percent white, despite the fact that Latinos account for 53 percent of San Diego County’s population, and 85 percent of Imperial County’s population. Language is a significant barrier for Latinos when accessing health care services, and often results in miscommunication between the patient and health care provider, which in turn, results in serious, and sometimes fatal, health consequences.

“California has a shortage of health care professionals who are able to provide culturally and linguistically appropriate services,” said Ignatius Bau, program director for The Endowment’s Culturally Competent Health Systems program. “The Endowment is trying to help change that. We believe the state’s diversity can be used as a resource to improve our health care delivery system to be more responsive to all Californians.”

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