Founder of joint SF State, City College program cited as visionary


José Ramón Fernández-Peña will be recognized for increasing a multilingual health work force


SAN FRANCISCO, May 10, 2011 -- The founder of an innovative program that helps medical professionals from other countries qualify for practice in the U.S. was named a "Champion of Health Professions Diversity" by The California Wellness Foundation (TCWF).

José Ramón Fernández-Peña, M.D., a San Francisco State University Associate Professor of Health Education and founder of the Welcome Back Initiative, will accept a medal and $25,000 cash award at a Los Angeles ceremony on June 1. Welcome Back is an initiative of Community Health Works, a partnership of San Francisco State University and City College of San Francisco (CCSF).

A physician who emigrated from Mexico in 1985, Fernández-Peña founded the initiative to alleviate the difficulties professionals like him face when pursuing credentials and licensing in the U.S. health sector.

Since its founding in 2001, Welcome Back has helped thousands of health professionals from more than 150 countries obtain the licenses and certifications required to continue their health sector careers in the U.S. Today, the San Francisco Welcome Back Center is the lead site of a nationwide program that includes Welcome Back Centers in Colorado, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Washington, Maryland, New York, Texas and San Diego, California. Staff counsel and guide foreign-trained health professionals through the process of licensing, credentialing and finding educational programs they may need, including English language instruction. Services are free of charge.

"We hope that those who benefit from the services at Welcome Back Centers will go on to address the serious lack of basic healthcare access among our poorer and immigrant communities in the U.S.," Fernández-Peña said. "These communities are in desperate need of crucial services like primary and mental health care that can be delivered by providers who know the culture and language of the community."

Gary L. Yates, president and CEO of TCWF, calls Welcome Back an important model program for increasing California’s health workforce and its diversity. "The California Wellness Foundation is pleased to recognize Dr. Fernández-Peña's significant contributions.”

The California Wellness Foundation, which focuses on support that improves the health of the people of California, distributes Champion of Health Professions Diversity awards to recognize and promote diversity in health professions. The other two awardees this year are Charles J. Alexander director of the Academic Advancement Program at University of California, Los Angeles and John T. Matsui, director of the Biology Scholars Program at the University of California, Berkeley. For more information about the awards, including biographies, photos and video clips of the award winners, visit:

For more information about the Welcome Back Initiative and its centers, visit

San Francisco State University is the only master's-level public university serving the counties of San Francisco, San Mateo and Marin. The University enrolls more than 30,000 students each year. With nationally acclaimed programs in a range of fields -- from creative writing, cinema and biology to history, broadcast and electronic communication arts, theatre arts and ethnic studies -- the University's more than 180,000 graduates have contributed to the economic, cultural and civic fabric of San Francisco and the greater Bay Area.

City College of San Francisco (CCSF) is celebrating its 75th Anniversary this year.  Currently, CCSF serves over 100,000 students by offering AA, transfer, certificate, and noncredit programs.  CCSF has 51 departments, and San Franciscans benefit from more than 300 educational programs offered in the college. 

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