Giselle Kalamba has always had a passion for helping people.
She explains that her uncle was a doctor and she was inspired by the care he provided others. She’d like to one day be a nurse, perhaps working with patients who are rehabilitating from serious accidents and life-threatening diseases.
“I saw what my uncle did and had a chance to help people at the camp in Uganda,” Kalamba says. “I really liked everything about it.”
Her journey toward a nursing career was disrupted by conflict in her native country, the Democratic Republic of Congo, which has been wracked by civil wars and insurgencies for nearly two decades. Kalamba lived in a refugee camp in Uganda for seven years before coming to Appleton.
During her stay at the refugee camp, Kalamba studied math, English, some basic health care and conflict management. In 2014, she was granted refugee status by the United States and eventually relocated to Appleton.
Free from the specter of war, Kalamba faces a new challenge — mastering English. While she speaks seven different languages, including Swahili and French, her English is still limited. Kalamba has been able to work part time at Valley Packaging, but it seemed her medical pursuits were on hold.
A new program being rolled out by Fox Valley Technical College aims to help students like Kalamba while also addressing the needs of care providers across the region, who are in the midst of a critical shortage of certified nursing assistants to help deliver care.
Dubbed the New Americans: CNA project, the new partnership program seeks to pair recent immigrants eligible to work in the U.S. who have an interest in health care with prospective employers willing to sponsor the students to help defray the costs of attending school.
The program will provide a path to skilled employment for these students while helping to ease the critical care crunch caused by the CNA shortage.
The first class — involving FVTC students in Appleton and Oshkosh — kicks off this January.
“It’s a great partnership that will help these students get both an education and a job,” says Marie Martin, director of Global Education and Services at FVTC.
For the employers who have a critical need for CNAs, the program offers a unique way to help both the students and their own staffing levels.
“In the past 10 years, I’m not sure that we have ever been at full staffing,” says Erin Sanders, vice president of human resources for Oshkosh-based Evergreen, a senior living facility with multiple levels of care. “I think we had 25 openings when FVTC first called us about the program.”
The CNA shortage is a nationwide challenge facing the care industry, from medical clinics to residential care facilities. Not only are there current shortages, but there are growing demands for these workers. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics expects the demand to grow more than 21 percent by 2022, which will mean more than 300,000 new jobs in the field.
The factors driving the shortage are myriad, but a high burnout rate is often cited, as well as the fact the position can be used as a stepping stone to other nursing professions.
As a pilot project, a group of eight students from FVTC’s English language classes with an interest in pursuing CNA certification will be matched up with eight employers providing scholarships to help pay some of the costs, about $2,300 per student. The employers are providing a full-time position upon certification, making the recruiting costs about $1.16 per hour the first year and 58 cents an hour if the student works two years.
“We have potential employers calling us every week wanting to know more about the program and how they can take part,” says Barb Tuchscherer, chair of FVTC’s Allied Health department. “There are hundreds of openings in the valley for these positions right now.”
While employers are providing financial assistance and employment guarantees, the students must be able to prove they are eligible to work in the U.S., must complete the required coursework – including intensive English language and medical terminology classes – and be able to access reliable transportation.
The English language and medical terminology classes are critical components of the program.
“That is an area of concern, particularly with some of our patient census and making sure communication is clear,” Sanders says. “On the other hand, we have some retired teachers in our midst who I think will be looking forward to helping these students out so they can succeed.”
For Kalamba, the new program provides her a new route to her desired career path and she is looking forward to getting started. Eventually, she sees herself getting a nursing degree. She’s confident she can acquire the language skills needed to succeed.
“The terminology class has been a challenge because of some of the pronunciations,” she says. “English is not too hard. Learning French was the tough one.”