Foreign doctors graduate from FIU program that makes them nursesBy Hilary Roxe Associated Press Writer Posted December 15 2003, 6:27 PM EST MIAMI -- Marceliano Marcias, a Colombian trained doctor, set aside his pride and his medical education when he arrived in the United States and took a series of odd jobs that included cleaning floors behind a supermarket meat counter to support his five children.Marcias, 49, is one of 32 people who graduated Monday from a pilot program at Florida International University designed to train foreign-educated doctors to be nurses. For the health care industry, the program is a creative solution to a state and national nursing shortage. For many of the graduates, it is a way of re-entering a field they were forced to leave behind with their homelands.When he came to the United States four years ago, Marcias said his biggest concern was providing for his large family, so he took any job, refusing to let his pride to get in the way of delivering pizza or working as a landscaper. Though he said FIU's program was difficult, it reignited his interest in medicine.``The knowledge was there, just waiting to be used in a more appropriate way,'' said Marcias, who plans to work at Miami's Mercy Hospital.Dr. Divina Grossman, director of FIU's nursing school, said Marcias' experience is common. She said foreign educated physicians are often limited by their English language abilities, or the difficulty of passing the medical board certification, and many work as hospital technicians or nursing aids. The program is designed to make better use of their medical knowledge in the midst of an acute nursing shortage.A recent report from the Florida Hospital Association shows 10 percent of the resident nursing jobs in the state are vacant, and Florida may be short about 61,000 RNs by 2020.Leslie Homstead, an RN and the director of professional practice advocacy at the Florida Nurses Association, said the demands of the profession and aging demographic of nurses are creating the shortage.``The average age of nurses is in the mid to upper 40s,'' she said. ``Add another 10 or so years to that, and we'll be ready to retire.''A partnership among Hospital Corporation of America, an organization that owns hospitals across the country, Kendall Regional Medical Center, Cedars Medical Center and Mercy Hospital provided the $600,000 necessary for the first class, Grossman said. The partnership stepped up again for the second class of 60 students, she said, but funding is uncertain past next December. More than 600 people have already applied for that class.Jeff Prescott, a spokesman for Nashville-based HCA, said the motivation for funding the program is obvious, given an acute nationwide nursing shortage.``In general, the issue of nurse recruiting is huge,'' he said. ``Anything creative that could be done is being done.''Grossman said this program is the first of its kind in the nation, though she has gotten calls of interest from other parts of the country.