Earn a Career in Health, Free

By: Ashmar Mandou

Lawndale News Chicago's Bilingual Newspaper - Local News

Juan Salgado, president and chief executive officer at IDPL.

Rigoberto Acosta, 21, hailed from Cuba to Chicago in 2009 with aspirations to become a physician. With no financial prospects on the horizon or any level of English proficiency under his belt, Acosta felt his dream quickly slipping away. That is, until Acosta stumbled upon a program that seemed to relieve his difficult circumstance. “It was definitely a shock for me and my family,” said Acosta. “I was really fortunate to have discovered a program that guided me every step of the way. I would not be at the place I am in right now, that’s for sure.”

Joseph J. Hernandez, 31, was born and raised in Chicago. At the age of 17, Hernandez decided to discontinue his high school education, instead opting to head straight for employment. After a string of unsuccessful jobs, Hernandez returned to school to complete his GED at the age of 22. “When I did land a job I wasn’t satisfied with it,” said Hernandez. “I worked hard to make money for a corporation and I was not happy.” When the time came for Hernandez to pursue other options, a friend of his introduced him to a program that would help him reach all levels of success.

What these two seemingly different individuals have in common is that both found success in the medical profession with the help of Carreras en Salud, an innovative career pathways program at Instituto del Progreso Latino (IDPL).

As a bridge program, Carreras en Salud equips prospective students with the tools and education to enter into three dominating positions within the nursing field, such as Licensed Practical Nursing (LPN), Certified Nursing Assistant (CAN), and Registered Nursing (RN). Carreras en Salud is so profoundly significant to the Latino community because it accommodates to all levels of English-speaking individuals and provides financial assistance and child-care assistance to those who are in need, leaving students to concentrate on their studies.

“There is incredible power in investing in education,” said Juan Salgado, president and chief executive director of IDPL. “Years ago, when were starting Carreras en Salud, people didn’t see our ‘population.’ They didn’t see Latinos in these communities as part of the pipeline to healthcare and so we had to help them see that. We had to help the city colleges see that, we had to help private employers see that.”

In Carreras en Salud’s first year in 2005, 29 bilingual Latino students completed the program and earned their license in practical nursing. Since then, over 2,000 students have enrolled into the program with many walking out with a license in RN, LPN, and CNA. “There is a shortage of bilingual nurses in the field. It is in high demand and students who walk through our doors already possess the quality to care for others, it is part of the Latino culture. So Latinos are already built to succeed in this field,” added Salgado.

In conjunction with Association House of Chicago, the National Council of La Raza, and the Humboldt Park Vocational Educational Center (HPVEC) of Wilbur Wright College, IDPL provides different training and bridge programs that allow students to enter the program no matter their educational or English-proficiency level. “When a student becomes interested in joining Carreras en Salud, they must first take a placement exam so that IDPL properly assesses their level of reading, writing, and mathematics, before taking core classes here at Wright College,” said Madeline Roman-Vargas, dean of HPVEC.

After the placement test is taken, staff at Carreras en Salud review the level at which the individual shall begin the program based on his or her results. According to Roman, there are three bridge programs to help each individual, such as ESL, pre-CNA and pre-LPN classes that assures success. Also important to note is that each applicant is assigned a case manager, financial and academic counselor, and employment specialist that together builds a strong support system.

“I have to say this is a remarkable model for success because you have higher end institutions collaborating with community-based organizations all for a common goal, which is to advance Latinos in the medical profession,” said Roman.

As for Hernandez, upon graduation IDPL hired him as instructor tutor for students who are part of Carreras en Salud. “This truly is the best opportunity because I am able to make a living and invest in my community.”

Same can be said for Acosta who obtained his CNA and is currently working for Alden Northmoor Nursing Home. “I am still in the program and I want to obtain my RN and then perhaps transfer to University of Illinois in Chicago to get my bachelor’s degree,” said Acosta. “I encourage anyone who is interested in making a change in their life or who wants to pursue a position in the medical field to check out Carreras en Salud.”

If you would like to learn more about Carreras en Salud, call IDPL at 773-890-0055 or attend an orientation session every Wednesday at 10a.m., and 6p.m., at IDPL, 2520 S. Western Ave.

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