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How about a 900% raise? Mexican nurses head north to cure the ballooning U.S. health care labor shortage.

Registered nurse Carmen Lopez wants a raise--so she's leaving Mexico and moving to California to take a job at Desert Valley Medical, a hospital near Los Angeles, where her income will increase tenfold. "I was making US$500 a month in Mexico, and in the U.S. I will be making between $25 to $28 an hour" Lopez says.

Lopez, upon finishing her U.S. nursing exam, will be joining nine other Mexican nurses at Desert Valley Medical. As U.S. baby boomers--now in their early 60s--age, the number of registered nurses in the United States is not keeping up.

The United States government forecasts that, by 2020, the demand for registered nurses is expected to have increased by 40% while number of nurses will have risen by just 6%. There are currently 2.2 million working nurses. Meanwhile, the number of elderly persons is expected to rise to 54 million by 2020, a 50% increase, while the overall U.S. population will rise by 18%.

Nurses also are leaving the profession to retire or change careers. The U.S. nursing school graduation rate is forecast to decline 26% by 2020 and salaries--now around $49,840 annually--are today 28% less than historically underpaid elementary school teachers. In an effort to close the gap, hospitals have begun recruiting registered nurses from foreign countries, including Mexico.

Lopez mad her colleagues were recruited by MDS Global Medical Staffing in Los Angeles, a company that in the past focused on matching technology professionals from Latin America with jobs in the United States. Seeing the demand in health care, MDS launched a new program to place nurses front Mexico.

Roger Viera, co-founder of MDS Global Staffing, says he and his partner have invested $1 million and the Mexican government added another $1 million to open a nurse residency program in Mexico, which trains and certifies nurses to work in the United States. "We only recruit qualified nurses. They must have a four year Bachelor of Science degree and four years of work experience."

MDS has also recruited Maria de la Cruz Gonzalez, who says she's excited about this opportunity to emigrate with her husband and work as a nurse in the United States. "The hospitals offer us a two-year contract where our nuclear family can come along to live with us in the U.S.," she says. MDS gives the nurses three months of paid rent and transportation, provides placement with client hospitals and provides training in technology and language.

Sponsored by the U.S.-Mexico Chamber of Commerce, MDS teaches the students how to use English for everyday situations related to school, work' and social life. According to Viera, the nurses will be well prepared for the U.S. state nursing exams and they also will receive coaching for the immigration process. The nurses will be able to work in U.S. hospitals for two years under a North American Free Trade Agreement visa.

MDS expects to recruit from Mexico's 12 nursing schools--and beyond. "We plan to recruit [nurses] from Costa Rica in the future," says Viera.

Adapting. Donna Smith, chief nursing officer at Desert Valley Medical, says she is happy to have the Mexican nurses join her staff and believes that they are as qualified as U.S nurses. But, she says, they will need more technical experience before they can go to work, since technology is different in the hospitals of Mexico. "We will provide them with extra training once they get here," she says.

Mexican hospitals are feeling the pinch. "There are enough jobs for nurses here on the Mexican border because we are close to the United States; in the country's interior there are not enough jobs," says Socorro Gomez, sub-director of nursing at Poliplaza Medica hospital in Juarez. "On the border we are in need of nurse specialists that can work in intensive care units, pediatric and neonatal specialists."

The nurses on hand in Juarez now are under-qualified for those posts, Gomez says. At ten times the pay for heading north, that trend is likely to only worsen.
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Title Annotation:Health Care
Author:Belone, Aisha
Publication:Latin Trade
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jul 1, 2004
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