Many American hospitals encourage patients to fill out a comment card about the service they received. Iryna Zhgya gets a lot of these comments. She keeps them in a binder at her home.
Zhgya says at a dining room table, and pulls out a comment card from one especially difficult patient, "And Aaron, he said Iryna is an excellent RN, she knows how to be firm but yet gentle."
She learned those skills back in Ukraine.
"I knew how to take care of patient. I was a nurse. I knew how to turn people every 2 hours and how to watch for the sores on their body."
Nursing in the United States, it turns out, isn't all that different from being a nurse anywhere else. The ideas are the same: You're making sure a patient's needs are met.
Politics, economics bring foreign-trained nurses to U.S.
Zhyga has been doing that most of her life. But her career as a nurse took a detour 17 years ago, when the Soviet Union collapsed and instability washed over the republics.
"I remember I've got so afraid of it. One of the nights I put my children on the floor. I was afraid to go to another room… And I sit on my knees, and I say, 'Dear Lord, please, take me there where you want me to be.'"
Zhyga talks a lot about her faith. She says it's what gave her and her children the courage to leave Ukraine as refugees and eventually resettle in Oregon.
Zhyga came here barely able to speak English. She had twin daughters to support, and she couldn't even drive a car. She was struggling as a single mom to make ends meet when she found out about the WIIN program. That stands for Workforce Improvement with Immigrant Nurses.
Program brings diversity and experience to workforce
"The idea had started a long time ago with many of us in health care who were interesed in getting more diversity into the workplace, particularly into the RN workforce."
Judy Anderson is the director of WIIN. Her office walls at Clackamas Community College are decorated with ethnic dresses given to her by former students. And sitting on one of her shelves are tiny flags, representing the 27 nationalities of nurses who have come through this program from "all over, everything from Siberia to Micronesia!"
Only 12 to 14 students are selected each year for the one-year WIIN program. They learn communication and time-management skills and take refresher courses on nursing. Anderson says most of them work full time, go to school, and raise children.
"They love nursing. They want to help take care of patients. They are very hard workers. They have very complicated lives, in spite of everything, they overcome the obstacles. And almost all of them that we admit to the program actually end up with their nursing licenses."
"We didn't know if we would be able to become nurses here. We didn't know if our English will be good enough for the patients. But the faith that Judy had in us, it was a lot."
Foreign-trained nurses help fill gap left by retiring health care workers
WIIN was one of 10 re-entry programs for foreign educated nurses around the country. Lisa Snodderly, the nursing recruitment director at Providence Health Care in Portland, Oregon, has hired a number of WIIN graduates. She notes that as nurses who entered the workforce in the 1960s and '70s begin to retire, the nation faces a shortage of caregivers. There are plenty of new nursing school graduates, but there's a growing need for experienced nurses.
Snodderly says that's where the WIIN program comes in.
"What I see that this group can offer us, besides the fact they can offer us diversity, is they have experience as a nurse, though in a very different setting in most cases, but they still have those skills where they learned how to prioritize, and all the stuff you have to learn as a new nurse, they bring that to the work environment."
Iryna Zhyga has those skills. She graduated from the WIIN program more than 3 years ago. Now she has a well-paying job at a nursing home in Portland.
When she arrived in the United States, she says, she never dreamed of this life. But her 16-year-old twin daughters have just graduated from high school. And a year ago, Zhyga bought her first home.
"When we bought it, I walked around and I looked at the walls and I think, well, I came with two suitcases and two children to this country, had nothing and I was able to grow here and have a place that I can call home."
It's a home that few immigrants and refugees ever experience. According to experts at the Migration Policy Institute, who study global migration trends, more than a million college-educated immigrants living in the United States are unemployed or working in minimum-wage jobs.
WIIN director Judy Anderson says programs like the Workforce Improvement with Immigrant Nurses can help change those statistics by giving immigrants like Iryna Zhyga a chance to leave poverty behind and return to a career path they thought was lost forever.
detour: an indirect or roundabout procedure, path, etc（迂回，绕道而行）