Claudia Hurtado NCLEX-RN ESOL Program Graduate 2023
What kind of work did you do previously?
I never thought I would immigrate from my country. I was a nurse there, with 8 years of experience in critical care and cardio surgery. I had a wonderful life there – big house, happy marriage. Everyone dreams that when you turn 40 you have all the stuff. Profession, family, marriage, successful children. But because of the government I started to get in trouble because of my political opinions. I became a target. They hired people with the worst backgrounds to take over the hospital. The police were all criminals. They were watching me, but I didn’t feel scared to share my opinions. I felt like it was my responsibility to share. And I had to leave everything in my country, my house and everything, at 42 years old. Nobody is safe in my country. You just survive. My youngest child was 2 years old, and there was no medicine, no milk, no anything for him.
Why did you decide to participate in the NCLEX program?
My first opportunity in New York was cleaning a synagogue. My English was basic, but I felt blessed because I had an opportunity to get money and feed my family. You have to face these kinds of things with courage. You can’t spend time crying and being depressed. Everyone liked the job I did, cleaning, everyone said I was the best. That broke my heart though. To go from being a professional nurse to being a cleaner. Sometimes I felt lost. Who am I? Will I ever be a professional again? My son was struggling in school and he was diagnosed with ADHD. I lost my job trying to deal with his condition, and my husband became solely economically responsible for the family. He was working 20 hours a day sometimes. That was a turning point for me—at that point I started thinking about how I could become a RN in the U.S. So me and my husband got together to make a plan. He would care for the family economically, and I would take care of the kids but also start to study.
I asked my uncle to send me my papers, but he refused. To validate your history as a professional, you have to send your papers to the agency. But you can’t do it on your own—your university has to send it all. But my university was a public university under government control, and the government said any professional who goes to the U.S. can’t get their papers. I waited for 5 years to find someone in the University who would be willing to send my papers to the agency here. But it only took one month for me to be accepted by the agency.
How did you find out about the program?
On my first try I didn’t get accepted into English for Foreign Nurses at La Guardia. But the next year they opened the NCLEX Immigrant Nursing program at Lehman College, a special program for immigrant nurses who were already regular nurses in their countries. I found out about it through an advertisement on Instagram. At first, I passed on it, because sometimes when you have your self-confidence broken you feel like things aren’t for you. But then I had a doctor friend who called me and said “Claudia, this is for you! This program is for you! Apply my friend!” So, I applied, and Colleen called me to participate. I felt the connection immediately. I took the process step by step with an interview, then a test, then another interview...it was so fluid. And then I was in.
I have several nursing friends who didn’t get into the program. And they have struggled to pass the English exam to become a nurse. I have had friends who have tried 7 times.
But it’s more than that. If you’re a professional, and you come and become a cleaner, cleaning bathrooms...it breaks your self-confidence. NCLEX built my self-confidence. If you find people who will help you improve your self-confidence, you can do anything. The NCLEX team provided emotional support because the program is very demanding. We started with 21 people and finished with 15. It’s not just classes and books and the metro card—sometimes you have heartbreak because you lost your family, your life. This program is not easy, it’s hard. We refresh ALL the knowledge of nursing in 8 months, and you’re learning and improving your English at the same time. They’re training you to be in a hospital, not because you’re an immigrant, but because they need to train everyone to have the foundation to be successful in a hospital environment. But they provide the support you need to be able to continue.
What have your job prospects been like since graduating?
I work in the oldest hospital in the U.S., Bellevue. I work in the same unit that I worked in my own country. I am so lucky, but also, I worked hard to be there.
What were you making before and what are you making now?
My salary is $100,750/year. All things in the hospital revolve around nursing. It’s hard, but it’s beautiful. In my home country as nurse, I earned $20/month.
How has the program and/or your new job impacted your family?
I’ll start with my son. Now I can afford the best tutor in New York for him. Now I can prepare him to get into a good high school and get him a tutor for his violin performance. We discovered violin helped him with his ADHD, and now he plays in a symphony.
If you improve, your family improves. If your family improves, your circumstances improve. My husband doesn’t need to work 20 hours a day anymore. Our quality of life has improved, we can save money, we have more time together as a family. That’s important. I have more time for my family now—I work three 12-hour shifts and then I have 4 days off. I can support my family economically and with my time. I have more time here now. And my daughter wants to get into nursing school.
If you could go back in time to when you started the program, what advice would you give yourself? What advice would you give to someone else who might want to participate in the program?
The first thing: believe. Believe because you’ll feel anxious. You’ll think “what if I can’t do it? What if I can’t find the time?” But if I had more confidence, and more belief in myself, I would have had less anxiety and could have focused more. And, make friends and support each other! Because if you see your peers are successful, it will give you the confidence to be successful also. That is very important in the training. You know, so many times I heard “you’re a woman. You’re Spanish. Spanish people only come to this country to clean.” But this program changed my life.