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Nursing program provides pathways for bilingual health workers

Marshall Terrill

Michael Moreno was building a successful career as a banking financier when the Great Recession hit, decimating the financial markets.

Just like that, Moreno was laid off and jobless. And that was OK for the Phoenix man.

While he made a fine living in the financial sector, Moreno said his career didn’t provide him great personal satisfaction. He wanted to do something that left a positive impact on the Latino community.

“Being laid off was a blessing because I could finally get into the nursing field and contribute to something that was meaningful to me,” Moreno said. “The Hispanic community has a large knowledge deficit when it comes to health care and they need help. I believe I have something to offer.”

Moreno, 29, isn’t just chasing his dreams, he’s doing it while trailblazing into a new career path. He is one of two people who will commence the inaugural Bilingual Nursing Fellows Program and Concurrent Enrollment Program, a new, award-winning collaboration between ASU’s College of Nursing and Healthcare Innovation, South Mountain Community College and Phoenix College.

Students in the program, which started this week, will earn their Associate of Applied Science in Nursing from Phoenix College and their Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) from ASU within two-and-a-half years of acceptance into the program.

Students are also encouraged to take the nursing licensure exam after earning their Associate of Applied Science in Nursing.

The bilingual nursing program was created 12 years ago at South Mountain to meet the critical shortfall of Spanish speaking nurses in Arizona, and to prepare students for employment as registered nurses.

South Mountain nursing graduates are able to transfer directly into the BSN program at ASU for reduced tuition rates.

“We have a large need for Spanish speaking nurses not only in hospitals but ambulatory care and other clinic settings,” said Diann Muzyka, ASU’s director of the RN-BSN and concurrent enrollment programs.

“People relate better to those who are more like them. If a nurse speaks Spanish, a patient can make a stronger connection and they’re more comfortable and willing to accept what you’re telling them.”

Muzyka says the next Bilingual Nursing Fellows Program cohort will begin in fall 2016.

Students who are admitted to the program must meet all ASU admission requirements, hold a GPA of 3.0 and complete a dozen prerequisite courses at the community college level and must be able to speak, write and converse fluently in English and Spanish.

“People in this program are mostly first-generation college students and definitely have a sense of accomplishment and pride as well as fulfilling their dreams,” said Loida Guitierrez, Bilingual Nursing Fellows Program coordinator at South Mountain Community College. “Once they succeed and graduate, you can’t help but share in their excitement.”

Since the program began in 2003, over 300 students have become a registered nurse, licensed practical nurse or certified nurse assistant. The White House Initiative on Educational Excellence recognized the program in September as a “Bright Spot” in Hispanic Education.

For Moreno the bright spot will be his commencement, come May 2018.

“Once I graduate, my options will be wide open and not just limited to the southwestern United States,” Moreno said. “It’s going to boil down to where I want to work, how much do I want to work and how much do I want to make. And also help improve the health of Hispanics for generations to come.”