Nurse from Tunisia Fills Critical Staffing Need at Chicago Hospital

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Jawad, a nurse from Tunisia, describes his first three months in the U.S. as like walking in a dream; he could not believe he was here. The opportunities were beyond his expectations.

 “You could get a job like that,” he said, snapping his fingers. 

He worked in warehousing and then as an Uber driver, but establishing a professional career proved much more challenging. Despite shortages in healthcare workers and the significant need for bilingual nurses, Jawad faced a long and complicated path to relicensing in the U.S. The process requires foreign trained nurses to pass a difficult English proficiency exam. 

Jawad reflects, “Immigrants don’t know how high the expectation is and when they fail, they become discouraged. They have lost time. They become overwhelmed. They just stop.”

English proficiency is just the first hurdle on the path to relicensing. Next, immigrants must have their foreign credentials evaluated through an accredited U.S. evaluator and pass the U.S. board exams, often years after completing their original studies. 

“The exams should be hard,” Jawad agrees, but he also feels the lack of guidance is harmful to both immigrants and the broader healthcare system, which is missing out on an opportunity to optimize much needed talent. 

The agencies who handle licensing are overwhelmed and unresponsive, creating a bottleneck for immigrants like Jawad who feel they have no other option but to wait for the information and help they require.

Jawad recalls, “I met a lot of nurses from Central America, Africa, and Europe who became frustrated and gave up.” Jawad was trying to figure out his next move and considering going back to school when someone at a local college gave him Upwardly Global’s contact information. 

“To be honest,” said Jawad,” I couldn’t do it on my own, it was too complicated.” 

Upwardly Global provided Jawad with clear information, contacts, and the support he needed to cross the finish line. In particular, he credits his career coach Tamar with connecting him to an instructor that teaches the board exam for foreigners. Through this contact he had unique access to detailed technical advice throughout his application process, ensuring small, common mistakes did not derail him from reaching his goal.

Today Jawad works as an ICU nurse at a leading Chicago hospital and hopes to one day work in anesthesiology. For his current employer, his license couldn’t have come soon enough. During the pandemic, there was one point when a floor of the hospital was facing a shortage of over twenty nurses. Jawad offers valuable insight into how we might better optimize foreign talent like him to meet this demand. He suggests preparing immigrants with more detailed information that will set them up for success or allowing immigrants to opt out of the English exam if they pass a high-level college ESL course. In general, he says foreign trained nurses need more guidance about where to start and where to focus. While the lack of navigational support is a barrier, Jawad still sees immense value in the U.S. system, which he still says “puts freedom above all else.” 

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