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Program helps grad realize a dream

By JOANNE FOX, Globe editor
(Email Joanne)

A certified nursing assistant gives credit to God, her mother and a career program that enabled her to land a job in the field of health care.

Carolina De Santiago is a nurse aide at Holy Spirit Retirement Home and is pretty happy about that.

“At first my career choice was international business, but I wasn’t so sure about doing that, so instead I decided to take my general education classes first to try to decide on a career in the meantime,” she explained.

De Santiago saw a notice about the Pathways to Health Care Careers Iowa program in a local Hispanic newspaper and applied.

“I wanted to see if health care was a better fit for me,” she said.

According to Jim Tagye, marketing coordinator with Mercy College of Health Sciences, Des Moines this unique project is a collaboration between Iowa Workforce Development, Iowa Bureau of Refugee Services, Mercy Medical Center – Sioux City and Tri-State Nursing, Sioux City.

The program recruits, screens, and provides training and support services to Limited English Proficient (LEP) refugees and immigrants in Iowa to help them pursue careers in the health care industry.

De Santiago was born in Mexico and moved in 1999 with her mother and brother to California when she was six.

“Then we moved to South Sioux City, Neb., near an aunt where I have now been living for about 16 years,” the 22-year-old said. “My mother wanted something better for us.”

Tagye estimated the project will serve nearly 200 individuals between fall 2010 and summer 2013 to enable them to prepare for certification in a nationally-recognized health care field and employment.

“This project represents an innovative approach to meeting the staffing needs of the Iowa health care sector, while simultaneously opening a high-potential career path to the state’s newest Iowans,” he said. “This project will directly address the needs for: qualified individuals to enter the health care profession; skilled personnel who are bilingual to best serve the growing number of new Iowans who do not speak English and who come from differing backgrounds.”

Teresa Muckey, clinical educator at Mercy Medical Center – Sioux City, explained the hospital was approached by Mercy College in Des Moines to be a clinical site in the summer of 2011.

“The program fit well with our Diversity and Inclusion initiatives as well as our Mission and Values so the opportunity was accepted,” she said. “From the facility perspective, the program offered our associates and patients the opportunity to experience other cultures.  It also has the potential of increasing the diversity in our workforce to match the diversity in our community.”

De Santiago, 2008 alum of South Sioux City High School who has been taking some college classes at Northeast Community College in South Sioux, was one of 16 Siouxland students with ties to Ethiopia, Mexico and Guatemala, who graduated from the program June 18 at a ceremony held at Mercy Medical Center.

“I would tell others that in becoming a nurse aide, you can always find a job and you will find joy in helping people in need,” she said. “This class helped me learn so much about caring, having people depend on you, also to believe in myself that I can do more than I thought I could.”

De Santiago felt her mother was as much responsible for achieving the degree as she was.

“I was encouraged to succeed, by Mom and without that support I would not be here at this moment,” she said in a speech presented on graduation day. “I will be looking for a career in health care and my future plans are that I want to start taking classes for an EMT career.”

In her speech, De Santiago shared a Bible verse -- Jeremiah 29:11.

“‘For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord. Plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and future.’ Basically, how I see this and how I can connect it to my experiences is that, in the beginning of this CNA class, I wasn’t so sure that it was for me, but throughout this course I realized I was in the right place,” she told the crowd. “And that this was going to take me to something bigger and better.”

For Muckey, the best part of the program was the opportunity for Mercy Medical associates to experience the various cultures and pride the staff felt in helping the students meet their goals.

“These students have very interesting stories as to how they came to be here and to see the perseverance they exhibited to reach their goals is amazing,” she said. “The graduation ceremony really highlighted their stories.”
De Santiago confessed to never being sure of what to pursue until the Pathway Career program surfaced.

“I felt like my eyes were opened to a new world and new experiences,” she said. “I believe God was waiting for the right moment and I think that this is only the beginning and this course has only opened doors for me to continue on my education. I thank him; because only he knows the plans he has for me to give me hope and a better future.”

Brenda Long, MS, RN, assistant professor at Mercy College of Health Sciences said, “We can dream for and with family members of these graduates who may now be inspired to pursue higher education/health care fields.”

Although a $3.4 million grant that funded the program ended June 30, Long speculated additional partnerships may be developed in the future between health care, education, employment, and social services sectors to continue the Pathways program in Des Moines, Sioux City and Storm Lake.

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