A Health Career On-ramp for English Language Learners

An article from The New York Times, titled, Lacking E.M.T.s, an Aging Maine Turns to Immigrants highlights a unique program at a community college, that supports both English Language Learners and area employers in developing an on-ramp to healthcare careers in the U.S. 

This program is a win-win-win,” said David Zahn, chairman of the global languages department at the community college, which started the program.   He said he basically put two and two together. Surveys showed that employers, especially municipal and private ambulance services, needed more E.M.T.s; other surveys showed that many immigrants in the Portland area are underemployed and have medical backgrounds, according to the Times. 

The course is financed by a work force development grant through the Maine Community College System, and additional support from a foundation helping disadvantaged people in the state.  While many work force development programs help immigrants learn English, this is possibly the first of which teaches English in the context of E.M.T. training, with participants learning high-level terminology and a higher level of English than those in, say, the food services industry.

Paul Froman is the course instructor, and says that he does not vary the program for immigrant learners.  They must pass the same tests and meet the same requirements for licensing as American-born participants.

What are other examples of programs supporting skilled immigrants, and working to address local employer needs in your economy?  Share your programs, or questions about how to create on-ramp career opportunities for the skilled immigrants in your community?  

Mike Cruse

Career Pathways Moderator





Thanks for posting this article, Mike. It's a great example of an "on ramp" to a meaningful career for skilled immigrants. In my community, we see many health care professionals, especially physicians. To address this issue this year, we have started a pilot training/mentoring program to support a small cohort of foreign-trained physicians to become medical assistants. We are lucky to have a retired physician to provide contextualized instruction and a partner clinic that offers on-the-job interning.

Since this is our first concrete effort, we are certain we will learn a great deal from the experience.

I'm looking forward to hearing from members across the US on programs that are designed to accelerate skilled immigrants onto career pathways.

Cheers, Susan Finn Miller

Moderator, English Language Acquisition CoP


Hi Debra and all, Since this is a small pilot, we don't have a website or even any materials or resources we can share yet.This pilot came to be because we have seen a large number of health care professionals over the past several years. The vast majority have limited English, and so have been working in housekeeping or in warehousing-- which we all know is a terrible brain waste. 

We are lucky that a retired physician in our community has become extremely motivated to help his fellow medical professionals. Since this doctor has so many connections in the community, he was able to forge some valuable  partnerships. A regular ESL teacher provides English instruction, the doctor provides contextualized instruction on various medical topics, and a local clinic offers on the job training related to medical assistance.

If you would like moire information, I can put you in touch with those involved. Send a private message to my email susanfinn_miller@iu13.org.

Cheers, Susan Finn Miller

Moderator, English Language Acquisition

Here at Northern Virginia Community College - NOVA Workforce, we have redesigned our part time ESL program to provide bi-directional on-ramps to either transition ELLs into Workforce Credentials in healthcare or IT, or to support ABE and ELLs in these credential programs with their English grammar, pronunciation, and soft skills (digital literacy, learning styles, persistence, collaborative work, problem solving, etc.)

Hi, Cyn -

Thanks for sharing that work that the NOVA Workforce is doing with it's support of ABE and ELL learners in healthcare and IT.  I'm curious how many of your ELLs are coming with no formal healthcare training, and how many are already trained in their country, but lack the credentials to practice in the U.S.?  If you have sizable numbers in both groups, are you able to offer separate classes based on previous education levels in healthcare fields, or are all students, regardless of their healthcare training background, placed in the same classes to improve the skills required for these credentialing programs, and the demands of the U.S. healthcare market?


Mike Cruse

Career Pathways Moderator