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Barriers to Licensure and Workplace Integration for Internationally Educated Nurses In Illinois

September 11, 2014


Read the full report here.

New Report Details Obstacles for Foreign-Trained Nurses in Illinois. Licensing rules, language, costs are major barriers

Complex licensing requirements and lack of language-appropriate information are two of the major barriers prevent internationally educated nurses (IENs) from practicing their chosen profession in Illinois.  The Chicago Bilingual Nurse Consortium, the International Bilingual Nurses Alliance (IBNA), and the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (ICIRR) describe these and other obstacles in this report.

As the report details, Illinois’ growing immigrant and refugee population is creating an increasing need for health care services provided in a linguistically appropriate and culturally sensitive manner.  IENs have both the nursing education and experience and the language and cultural background to fulfill these needs. Yet 12% of IENs in Illinois work in low-skill jobs or are unemployed, not using their talents to their fullest extent.

“Our state has a deep talent pool of internationally educated nurses, but our educational and licensing systems are frustrating for many of them,” says Mary Lebold, executive director of the Chicago Bilingual Nurse Consortium (CBNC). “We have counseled many of these nurses extensively to work through these systems, but the systems themselves need to change so that we can make the most of these nurses’ talents.” 

This report is based largely on interviews and other work that CBNC has conducted with IENs, as well as research and writing by the IBNA, the Migration Policy Institute and ICIRR immigrant integration policy fellow Fanny Lopez, with support from the J.M. Kaplan Fund. 

The main obstacles identified by the report include the following:

  • Lack of English language classes that meet integrate language skills with health care professional training;

  • Lack of clear, accurate, linguistically appropriate information about the Illinois licensing system;

  • Arbitrary requirements, including an Illinois rule requiring that nursing license applicants have 14 years of formal education, even though many IENs are able to complete their formal education in less time;

  • Discrimination in recruitment and hiring;

  • Lack of programs that can support IENs in making the transition to practice in Illinois.

“Overcoming these obstacles will require many institutions, including state government, community colleges and educational institutions, health care systems, and nonprofit organizations, to work together with IENs,” says Fred Tsao, senior policy counsel with ICIRR.  “We hope that all of these stakeholders will work with CBNC, IBNA, and us so that these nurses can best serve our entire community.” 

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