SF State News {University Communications}

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Welcome Back Center receives national kudos

August 1, 2008 -- The San Francisco Welcome Back Center is a finalist for the prestigious 2008 Innovations in Government Award. The joint program of San Francisco State University and City College of San Francisco helps foreign-trained health professionals qualify for work in the United States. Finalists will be recognized and winners will be announced at a Washington, D.C. reception on Sept. 9.

Photo of Dr. José Ramón Fernández Peña.

Welcome Back Founder and Director, Dr. José Ramón Fernández Peña.

Sponsored by the Harvard Kennedy School of Government's Ash Institute for Democratic Governance and Innovation, the award acknowledges creative approaches and solutions to problems in the public sector. Fifteen finalists were chosen from a national pool of more than 1,000 applicants. Welcome Back was the only California finalist selected and the only program involving higher education.

Policy analysts, government officials and academic experts at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government and other institutions from across the country made their selection after several months of rigorous evaluation. David Gergen, Harvard professor of public service, former U.S. News editor and adviser to four U.S. presidents, chaired the selection committee.

"The Welcome Back Center is a model for positive change and deserves this recognition not only for its innovation and creativity, but for the dramatic effect it has had on the lives of both the medical professionals involved and the people they serve," San Francisco State President Robert A. Corrigan said.

Long before Welcome Back director Dr. José Ramón Fernández Peña founded the program in 2001, he was certain of the need for it. "I was a doctor in Mexico City before I immigrated to the United States in the mid-1980s," he said. "Finding and navigating the complicated governmental and educational paths to becoming a qualified and licensed medical worker in the United States was tough." Most Welcome Back alumni start their careers in the United States in minimum wage positions outside the health sector. Language barriers are an added burden to some.

Welcome Back participants work with an educational case manager to develop a training strategy that will help them return to the health workforce. Many of the educational opportunities are provided by SF State and City College. Some physicians choose to pursue the MPH program at SF State. Some nurses take refresher courses at CCSF.

The program produces bilingual professionals who can work in communities where language is a barrier to proper medical treatment. Although Latinos make up 31 percent of California's population, only 4 percent of the state's nurses or doctors are Latinos.

"From the beginning our mission was to build a bridge between the need for linguistically and culturally appropriate health services in underserved communities," Fernández Peña said. "By contributing to the diversification and cultural competency of California's health work force, we hope to improve access to health services."

The Welcome Back Center is an initiative of Community Health Works, a partnership of San Francisco State University and City College of San Francisco. The San Francisco Welcome Back Center is the lead site of a nationwide initiative that includes centers in San Diego, Los Angeles, Boston and Providence. Another center will open in Washington state this fall. Since the Initiative was launched in 2001, thousands of people from more than 130 countries have obtained the licenses and certifications required to continue their careers in health in the United States. For more information, visit www.e-welcomeback.org

-- Denize Springer


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