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Refugee Profiles

Mohammed's Story: a Pathology Residency at Johns Hopkins


Moving three times in the span of five years was not exactly what Mohammed had in mind when he began his surgical pathology practice in Baghdad back in 2002. But sometimes, you have no choice. In 2007-2008, the political situation in Iraq was deteriorating. After Mohammed's father was killed, it was too dangerous to stay, and Mohammed and his family fled to Amman, Jordan. Finding work as an attending pathologist in Amman was relatively easy, as was the transition between similar medical systems. After a year in Jordan, Mohammed and his family were offered asylum in the U.S. Another move. But this time, finding work as a pathologist would be more challenging given the different medical licensing requirements.

Discouraged, Mohammed soon gave up his job hunt, and charted a new course. He decided to focus on the USMLE (Medical Licensing Exam), a requirement to enter a residency program and eventually practice medicine as a physician in America. Studying 10 hours a day, Mohammed set the goal to complete all four USMLE exams in less than 18 months. Although three exams would qualify for applying for a residency, Mohammed decided that taking the fourth exam, usually completed during residency training, would strengthen his application. During this time, staff at Colorado Welcome Back provided support and advice on how to approach this exam, and online resources to help Mohammed prepare for the tests. "I am grateful for that advice and support. I got many calls from [Educational Case Manager] Dr. Khalid asking how I was doing and if I needed anything. This really kept me motivated." Mohammed volunteered at the University of Colorado in the pathology department, and also completed a four-week observation at Johns Hopkins. These activities not only provided Mohammed with valuable experience, but also resulted in strong letters of recommendation.

In August 2011, Mohammed aced his exams with a score of 99 (out of 100) on each exam and received the Education Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates certification, allowing him to pursue a medical residency in the U.S. The following months were a whirlwind: Mohammed received 27 invitations to interview for a medical residency in pathology including such pristegious institutions as the Mayo Clinic, Cleveland Clinic, Dartmouth, University of Colorado, and Yale. When he received an early offer to join the Pathology Department for a four-year residency program at Johns Hopkins, Mohammed accepted, thereby skirting the infamous wait and see residency-matching process.

Though this will require another move for Mohammed, he says he is ready to do it again.
Mohammed's advice to other foreign-trained medical professionals? "Get experience, study hard, get high scores. We have to prove that we are very good. Don't give up. Try to get into the system: doing internships, volunteering, observing. All these activities can help."

Tsehaye's Story: Becoming a Patient Navigator with Denver Health

On Sept 6, 2012, Tsehaye Araia Desta, a foreign-trained MD from Eritrea, attended a Colorado Welcome Back (CWB) workshop focused on the Patient Navigator position. CWB had partnered with Denver Health to bring this opportunity to its foreign-trained medical clients. The workshop explained what it would take to succeed in the position and coached the attendees in resume writing and interviewing skills.

Tsehaye recalled: "When I first saw the email from CWB regarding the Patient Navigator opportunity, I was a little reluctant to attend; I was thinking it might be information that is not so useful to me right now, and I'm very busy studying for my boards. But I'm so glad I attended."

In October, Tsehaye successfully interviewed with Denver Health and soon started employment as a Patient Navigator II.

"The thing that excites me about this position with Denver Health is the opportunity to serve patients from all parts of the community. It is "very human". I will be working with asthmatic children and their parents."

Tsehaye continues: "Colorado Welcome Back has done a wonderful job getting information out to clients, offering training and career mentoring, and being very positive and encouraging.

My advice to CWB clients is to be persistent, keep trying, and keep knocking on doors. Have initiative, follow up on leads and build relationships because you never know how an opportunity will present itself. For example, I was on a waiting list to volunteer at an institution for 8 months. In the course of working with a 90 year old client in an assisted living capacity, I told her about my career dreams and mentioned that I was pursuing this particular volunteer position. It turned out that her daughter was connected with the institution and was willing to write a letter of reference for me. And I ended up getting a volunteer position! Sometimes you need to keep trying unusual and all relationships."


Realizing Dreams of Business Ownership and Self-Employment
Abdella Mudesir APO Pets - Cuddly Animals Kiosk

Southwest Plaza - Littleton, Colorado


Abdella is an asylee from Ethiopia. He arrived in the United States in 2007 and was granted political asylum after leaving Ethiopia, his home country. 


Back in Ethiopia, his family owned a shoe shop and helped inspire him to want to become a business owner.


When Abdella arrived in the United States, life was very difficult. His first jobs were odd jobs selling jewelry, small toy trains and sunglasses. Abdella did these jobs to support him and his family. Later, he started working at the APO Pets (Cuddly Animals) stand in the Southwest Plaza mall in Littleton, Colorado.  (read more)


Amina Salat

6:35 AM, Mar 15, 2011 
9Kids Who Care (click here to watch the video)

DENVER - There is a café where every visitor, no matter their story, is the same. It is called the SAME Café, and visitors will always get a meal, no matter their economic or social status.

Eighteen-year-old Amina Salat does not have to share much of her story before it is clear why she is a volunteer there.

"Not all have the money to buy food, you know?" she said. "It's [the café is] a really good thing."
Her family settled in the United States as refugees from Somalia in 2004 after their home was torn apart by war.

"I didn't speak English," she said.

In Colorado, Salat not only found a new home, she found a community that reached out to her.
"In life, there's people who are helping you. It's good to give back what they have given you, you know?" she said.

Serving became Salat's way of saying thanks.

"I'm making a difference by helping out. It's kind of good," she said. "Every time I come here or volunteer, I learn something new, which is cool."

That attitude and her service is one of the reasons she is March's winner of the 9Kids Who Care award.
When she is not preparing lunch at the SAME Café, she works with Growing Colorado Kids. It is a nonprofit that encourages students to sow, care for and harvest their own backyard gardens. The food is then donated to neighbors in need.

"I feel happy volunteering," she said.

(KUSA-TV (c) 2011 Multimedia Holdings Corporation)