2008 Finalist
State of California
Innovations in American Government Awards
Innovations in American Government Awards

A 2004 report from the Sullivan Commission—a group convened by Dr. Louis W. Sullivan, former U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services, to address the nation's health gap—concluded, "the lack of minority health professionals in America is compounding the nation's persistent racial and ethnic health disparities." Critical shortages of minority representation across healthcare professions including nursing, pharmacology, dental hygiene, respiratory therapy, psychology and social work, is also cited as the primary cause of the poor healthcare for minorities in America.

In an effort to infuse the healthcare workforce with workers who speak the languages and understand the cultures of patient populations, San Francisco State University and City College of San Francisco collaborated to create the San Francisco Welcome Back Center, an initiative that links immigrant health professionals to healthcare career opportunities in the United States. Since its inception in 2002, the Welcome Back Center has supported immigrants seeking to reenter the healthcare workforce by providing services that assist in the attainment and validation of credentials needed for licensure. As of late 2007, 263 participants in the Welcome Back Center's programming passed licensing exams, 134 obtained licenses in their original medical professions, 57 entered new careers in health, 288 obtained employment in the United States healthcare sector for the first time, and 28 were accepted into medical residency programs.

The Welcome Back Center also works with policymakers and educators to reduce the structural barriers that prevent immigrant healthcare professionals from practicing in the United States. Initiatives include: 1) the development of a service model that leverages community assets to redress racial and ethic disparities in the healthcare workforce; 2) the creation of a transferable curricula which fills educational gaps required in advance of licensure; and, 3) publication of materials that allows the Welcome Back Center to serve as a technical assistance center for other jurisdictions seeking to replicate their model.

This emphasis on replicability is shown by California's implementation of the program across the state. In addition, the Welcome Back Center is a central resource supporting efforts to increase the number of licensed and culturally diverse health professionals throughout the United States. The model has been successfully replicated in Los Angeles and San Diego, resulting in the creation of the Welcome Back Initiative, which has served approximately 7,680 participants nationwide. The Welcome Back Center is also working with new replication partners in Rhode Island, Maryland, Washington State, and New York City to increase the access of their immigrant populations to opportunities in the healthcare field.