“The underemployment of foreign-trained health professionals is a loss not only to these individuals, but to the United States as a whole — especially in the face of many states facing serious shortages of health professionals, particularly in minority communities. California, for example, has a population that is nearly one-third Latino, yet only 4 percent of the state’s doctors and nurses are Latinos. These shortages mean that providers many not be available in minority or immigrant communities who speak the residents’ language or understand their culture.” - José Ramón Fernandez-Peña, Welcome Back Initiative Founder and DirectorDirector
The Welcome Back Initiative (WBI) is a San Francisco-headquartered organization with nine centers across the United States that help foreign-trained immigrant health professionals to return to the health care workforce at their skill level. Created in 2001, WBI helps these professionals get licensed and credentialed in the United States by providing them with orientation and pathways to the education and professional English language training they need to successfully rejoin the health care field.
The Welcome Back Centers have worked with more than 11,000 foreign-trained nurses, physicians, dentists, social workers, and other professionals, with more than 2,400 of them to date having successfully validated their credentials.
Through partnerships with community colleges, community organizations, and local governments, the WBI model has been replicated from the lead site at San Francisco State University and City College of San Francisco to eight centers throughout the country in Boston, Denver, New York, Providence (RI), San Diego, San Antonio (TX), the Seattle area, and suburban Washington, DC.
By leveraging the training, experience, and language skills of immigrant health care professionals, WBI helps them to move from low-skilled work to high-demand jobs in a health care profession that already is experiencing labor shortages and will face new demand as the US population continues to age.
In addition to helping address vacancies in high-demand health care occupations, WBI is playing an important role in improving health resources in medically underserved and minority communities. In California, for example, where nearly one-third of the state’s population is Latino, only 4 percent of doctors and nurses are Hispanic.
By returning foreign-trained health professionals to their occupations, WBI improves cultural and linguistic diversity in a health care profession that is dealing with increasingly diverse patient populations and prevents the talents of skills immigrants from going to waste, using them instead for the benefit of all Americans.
About José Ramón Fernández-Peña, Welcome Back Initiative Founder & Director
José Ramón Fernández-Peña, MD, MPA, is an Associate Professor of Health Education at San Francisco State University, where his works focuses on health workforce diversity and cross-cultural communication in health. He is the Founder and Director of the Welcome Back Initiative (WBI), a program developed to assist internationally trained health professionals through the necessary steps to
enter the U.S. health workforce.
WBI currently includes centers in California, Colorado, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, Rhode Island, Texas, and Washington.
Previously, he worked at Mission Neighborhood Health Center in San Francisco as Director of Health Education. Before arriving in California, he was an Associate Director for Quality Management at Bellevue Hospital Center in New York City.
Dr. Fernández-Peña has a degree in medicine from the National Autonomous University of Mexico and a Master’s degree in Public Administration from New York University. He received the “Champion of Health Professions Diversity” award from The California Wellness Foundation in 2011.