“Sometimes it is hard work, I am not going to lie. Sometimes it is long hours, a lot of work, and very stressful… [but I love working with children who are] so happy, sometimes even when they are sick. I worked hard to get here, and I am not going to complain.”
It was a love for practicing medicine that led Adriana to leave her home country of Venezuela in 2016 to start a new life in Miami, FL.
After training for 10 years to be a physician and a recent fellowship in infectious disease, she was practicing medicine as a pediatrician in the capital of Venezuela, Caracas. But stability in her native country eroded and more than 5 million Venezuelans were forced to flee due to political upheaval, violence, food insecurity, and lack of medical care.
When Adriana understood that it was no longer possible to continue living her dream of helping patients in Venezuela, she and her husband took an incredible risk, leaving it all behind at the age of 34 to pursue a new dream of practicing medicine in the United States.
For Adriana improving her English language skills was a top priority after moving to the U.S., so much so that she relocated from the heavily bilingual community of Miami to Chicago where she would be forced to develop her fluency. In Chicago, a friend told her about English classes at Harry S. Truman College and she enrolled. For many immigrants like Adriana, the skills and experience they bring are invisible to the world around them. Without English proficiency, immigrants face greater challenges in finding professional and skilled careers due to negative biases and assumptions. But one day in her English class an instructor asked Adriana what she did in Venezuela and when she shared her professional background the instructor knew exactly who to ask for help. She referred Adriana to Upwardly Global.
Upwardly Global is the first and longest-serving organization in the United States working to help immigrants to re-integrate into professional life. Since 2002 Upwardly Global has helped over 8,000 newcomers to navigate cultural differences, systemic challenges, and complex licensing requirements, to rebuild their careers and lives in America. Adriana’s goal was always to continue to be a doctor, but this required her to become relicensed to practice in the U.S.
“There is a lot of information about relicensing, but it is hard to understand what you need to do. You have to be methodical and plan and organize,” she said.
Indeed, the process is long and expensive. The need to work in order to secure the funds to complete this rigorous process while preparing for difficult exams only compounded Adriana’s challenge. Upwardly Global provided Adriana with support as she navigated this process, and she also credits the support of her husband.
“Mentally, you need somebody,” she said.
Adriana’s husband, who is an Orthopedist, was uniquely situated to understand a process that for most is difficult, isolating, and incredibly discouraging. Fortunately, with support, Adriana was successful, but limited residency spots meant she had to accept a position outside of Illinois. This past summer, she secured a pediatric residency in Florida, just as the state saw a record spike of Covid-19 cases in August. Suddenly, Adriana found herself at ground zero in the fight against Coronavirus.
“I am so grateful to be here,” she said, about to her ability to contribute to the fight against the pandemic.
She has seen staffing shortages. The facility she works at experienced a bottleneck in the system that limited the supply of licensed physicians, but her hospital also struggles with a shortage in support staff like nurses and phlebotomists; a struggle that has only been exacerbated by the pandemic and continues to grow across the U.S. By 2033, the U.S. expects a shortage of nearly 150,000 physicians in hospitals across the country, according to New American Economy.
Beyond the overarching talent shortage, our country has struggled to bridge the care divide for Black and Brown patients, and for those for which English is a second language. The evidence of this gap in care has acted as an awakening as this pandemic has torn through Black and Latinx communities. Adriana is one of few Spanish-speaking residents at her hospital.
“I try to translate for Spanish speakers,” she said, “because I know what it means to be in the hospital with something concerning when language is a barrier. When you say ‘hola’ you can see the relief for patients.”
The attendants are also so happy to utilize her bilingual skills, “they say, you speak Spanish, right? Oh, thank goodness!”
Adriana is continuing to support her husband while he seeks to secure his own residency, which could mean a long-distance relationship for a time, but this prospect isn’t slowing either of them down. After residency Adriana plans to pursue a fellowship in infectious diseases, which she expects to take 2 – 3 years.