Ericka's Story

Trained and licensed as a physician in her native Colombia, Ericka Olivera, 32, came to America six years ago to escape the political upheaval and frightening violence of paramilitary organizations that plagued her country.

Living in Charlestown, R.I., Ericka was working in a local library as a volunteer while her husband, Regino, also a physician, pursued his work in a post-doctoral program at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center.

A family physician, Ericka longed to resume her medical career in her new country. From the time she was a small child, Ericka had “always” wanted to be either a medical doctor or a veterinarian. “But more an M.D., really,” she said. She has a sister, still in Colombia, who is also a doctor.

“I really fell more in love with being a doctor after I graduated from the university,” she said. In Colombia, would-be physicians must spend a year in a rural setting. “It was there that I saw all kinds of patients.”

But here in Rhode Island, her command of English was halting at best. She had studied a little English in Colombia. “But not enough,” she said. “I was not fluent at all.” To begin, she hired a tutor to improve her language skills.

But a strenuous credentialing program also stood in Ericka’s way. And, she did not fully understand what all of the requirements entailed. She had also been away from medical practice for a time to care for her newborn son, Gabriel, now three years old. “I had stopped everything to dedicate myself to him,” Ericka said.

A friend told her of Dorcas Place Adult and Family Learning Center and its Welcome Back Center, a statewide initiative that helps medical professionals such as Dr. Olivera to earn necessary U.S. credentials and resume their professional careers.

Ericka sat down with Manuela Raposo, Welcome Back Center director, who laid out the steps Ericka would have to take to earn her medical license in the United States.

Today, Ericka works with patients at the Clinica Esperanza, a free clinic in Providence. She has completed some of the necessary testing and she hopes in 2012 to land a residency at Memorial Hospital in Pawtucket.

They explain everything,” Ericka said of her training at the Welcome Back Center. “And, they keep you motivated. Without the Welcome Back Center, it would take me a lot more time. I would have been disorganized [on my own]. The program has been a really big help.”

And, she exclaimed, “I am going to be very happy when I have finished with all of this. Then I can say that I did it. For now I will keep studying. I want to do medicine again.”

Learn more about the RI Welcome Back Center @ Dorcas Place>>