Student Furahini Kusimwa reviews Wednesday’s test answers during a CNA and medical terminology class at the Catherine McAuley Center in Cedar Rapids. Kirkwood Community College students use the McAuley Center program to work on their medical terminology so they can become nurses or certified nursing assistants. (Savannah Blake/The Gazette)

Students Marie Joseph (left) and Asma Shougar work together on a medical terminology quiz on Wednesday in the Certified Nursing Assistant class at the Catherine McAuley Center in Cedar Rapids. (Savannah Blake/The Gazette)

Amanda Wicks, education development coordinator at the Catherine McAuley Center in Cedar Rapids, takes test responses to a test with her students during a certified nurse assistant Wednesday and medical terminology class at the center. The class allows Kirkwood Community College students to work on these skills in a small group. (Savannah Blake/The Gazette)

Student Asma Shougar takes a medical terminology quiz on her phone during class Wednesdays at the Catherine McAuley Center in Cedar Rapids. Shougar attended medical school in Sudan and worked in a hospital for three years before immigrating. Now she is studying to be a nurse. (Savannah Blake/The Gazette)

Kirkwood Community College students take a medical terminology test during Wednesday classes at the Catherine McAuley Center. (Savannah Blake/The Gazette)

Student Merlin Cadet asks Amanda Wicks, education development coordinator at the Catherine McAuley Center, a question about a medical term during a Wednesday class at the center. (Savannah Blake/The Gazette)

Luisa Milolo takes her medical terminology exam in her Wednesday class at the Catherine Macauley Center in Cedar Rapids. (Savannah Blake/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS – Merlin Cadet is studying to become a Certified Nursing Assistant while learning English and living a lifelong dream inspired by the nurses and doctors who held her hand when her mother died three years ago.

A cadet who immigrated to the United States 20 years ago from Haiti came to the Catherine Macauley Center to get groceries from the pantry when she noticed people walking around with backpacks.

So she asked about courses offered at the center—a non-profit organization that serves immigrants, refugees, and women in crisis in Cedar Rapids—and learned about another educational program that helps immigrants like her become a certified nurse assistant, or CNA.

The free program begins with students attending the Basic Health Communication Course offered by Catherine McAuley for those who need additional English language skills before attending classes at Kirkwood Community College.

The cadet quit her job in Tama manufacturing to attend classes every morning. Now she works from midnight to 7 a.m. at Walmart, getting the kids ready for the day and then coming to class.

“In life, you have to fight for what you want,” Cadet said. “It’s impossible that you didn’t survive,” thanks to the help of the Catherine McAuley Center.

She said the nurses and doctors who held her hand as his mother died of a stroke gave her “courage” and “explained A to Z” what was going on despite the language barrier.

“For what they have done for me and my mom, I have to continue my dream,” Cadet said.

The need for a class

According to Amanda Wicks, Education Development Coordinator Katherine McAuley, the first Basic Health Communication class was launched just over a year ago after Kirkwood leaders noticed that students in their English Learner program were having difficulty in regular college classrooms.

To be eligible for the Basic Medical Communication course, students must first pass a reading and listening exam in English. (Classes for English learners are offered at the center and in Kirkwood.)

The 10-week health communication course focuses on specific English words, phrases, or idioms, such as “get in the door” — “if you’re not a native English speaker, you can take it literally,” Wicks said.

Eleven students are currently enrolled in Catherine McAuley’s Medical Communication Course, which is offered twice a year. After that, students can take a six-week Health Fundamentals course at Kirkwood, where they learn interviewing skills, resume writing and clinical techniques, Wicks said.

The center partners with Kirkwood Pathways for Academic Career Education and Employment (KPACE), which helps students access education and resources to develop skills that can lead to jobs in high-demand industries such as healthcare.

KPACE offers and pays for short-term certification training that can take as little as a few weeks. It also offers a two-week stipend to those pursuing one- and two-year diploma and degree programs.

Already trained

Some students dream of a medical career, while others already have medical degrees from other countries.

“Some students are interested in healthcare because they don’t want to work in a factory anymore,” Wicks said. “Some were doctors and nurses, but this is not tolerated here. People who used to work in hospitals now work at Whirlpool assembling refrigerators.”

Asma Shougar, for example, went to medical school in Sudan and worked in a hospital there for three years. She came to the United States five months ago and currently works at General Mills.

Shougar, whose native language is Arabic, is working on getting her license as a nurse.

Other students, such as Caroline Léger from Haiti, have always dreamed of becoming a nurse.

“In my country, if you don’t have money, you can’t do anything,” said Léger, who speaks Haitian Creole, French and English.

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