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Tsedey Gizaw is an experienced cardiac nurse with almost 11 years of experience, including nine in a hospital in Ethiopia.

Saad Murad is a registered nurse with a bachelor's degree and three years of experience working in a variety of hospital departments, including intensive care and coronary care in northern Iraq.

Jaafar Hamad is a trauma nurse with 15 years experience in many areas, including work on an ambulance corps in the Kurdish region of Iraq.

The three medical professionals are among six refugees or immigrants who recently finished the first certified nursing assistant preparatory program, in which students get ready to take CNA training offered by Bryan College of Health Sciences.

The seven-week prep class is run by Lincoln Literacy with a $12,500 grant from the Community Health Endowment of Lincoln, which uses the interest from the sale of the former Lincoln General Hospital for health-related projects.

Bryan will also receive a $17,000 endowment grant to cover tuition and costs to supply students with items such as books and scrubs.

In the prep class, students went through the certified nursing assistant textbooks, chapter by chapter, focusing on difficult vocabulary and new concepts, with the help of volunteer tutors.

For example, there may be cultural differences in medical treatment, said Clayton Naff, executive director of Lincoln Literacy.

But the difficulty is largely vocabulary, he said.

There is an enormous skills gap in Lincoln that hurts employers and young families who are trapped in low-wage jobs, Naff said.

In nursing, there is a great need for professionals, from certified nursing assistants to sophisticated levels of nursing, Naff said.

The students in the prep class are immigrants or refugees who have experience and skills but need some help with English and with the bureaucracy that surrounds classes and licensing, he said.

The prep class met once a week for two hours, and students were expected to spend about 10 hours a week studying on their own.

The Lincoln Literacy program had been planning to expand its services to teach skills that would help people make a good living when the Community Health Endowment grant became available.

The first group of students graduated from the CNA prep program the week before Christmas and expects to start the certified nursing assistant training program at Bryan College of Health Sciences in January.

It’s an amazing group of students, Naff said. All but one of the students have years of nursing experience, but their English has not been adequate.

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Plus technical details — from having up-to-date vaccinations to background checks, getting paperwork notarized or buying scrubs — can become hurdles, he said.

The class is led by Mike Eppel, a retired physician, and three of the four tutors are medical professionals, Naff said.

The students are very motivated, Eppel said. Most of them have been nurses, so much of the program is helping them with vocabulary and being able to read and understand the material in English, he said.

The graduating class is the first of three, perhaps four, groups this year that will prep for the certified nursing assistant class and start down the path toward a medical career.

Many of the students in the first prep class have plans to continue beyond the CNA training to become licensed nurses and do what they did in their home countries, Naff said.

The new prep program is also a learning experience for Lincoln Literacy, which is considering adding programs that help people, not just English language learners, to train for better jobs.

It might be someone who didn’t do well in school and lacks confidence to get that GED or start a welding program at a community college.

Lincoln Literacy, with its hundreds of good-hearted tutors, is ideally suited to help people across that chasm, Naff said.

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Reach the writer at 402-473-7250 or

On Twitter @LJSNancyHicks.



Nancy Hicks reports on Lincoln city government, but she’s been following the leaders of local and state government for more than 40 years.

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