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‘Impossible Dream’

VDMC lab techs arrive from overseas

-Submitted photo
Jane Romero and Luz “Lucy” Luiwanag are pictured with their manager, Kerrie Schmidt. The two Filipino women, both medical laboratory technologists, arrived in Webster City in November to work for the Van Diest Medical Center laboratory.

Recruiting qualified candidates for certain healthcare positions can be challenging in today’s world. Kerrie Schmidt, laboratory manager at Van Diest Medical Center, experienced that challenge as she tried to hire additional medical lab technologists.

Ultimately, she reached halfway around the world and found two experienced lab techs from the Philippines who were eager to further their careers in the United States.

Schmidt, a lab tech for the past 17 years, said the field of laboratory technology is one of the lesser-known healthcare careers but a very important one.

“It’s said that doctors base 70 to 80% of their diagnoses on the work that we do,” she said.

“We’re behind the scenes. It’s not a profession that’s out there a lot and people don’t really know what we do,” she said. “As a whole, we haven’t done a great job of promoting this career path. There aren’t a lot of people going to school for that. So recruitment can be difficult.”

She had worked for other organizations that had recruited from overseas with great success.

Schmidt discussed the option of overseas recruitment with the administration team. They received a few leads from colleagues and other hospitals in the MercyOne network. Those leads led to the hiring of two medical lab techs from the Philippines.

Jane Romero and Luz “Lucy” Liwanag arrived in Webster City in November to begin their duties. But the work to bring them to the U.S. started many months before.

The pair were interviewed via video conferencing and were offered the two positions in June. Once they accepted the jobs, Schmidt said VDMC’s legal team went to work to begin the process of bringing them onboard.

Before the move Romero had to file paperwork with the government and had an interview with the U.S. Embassy. And there is a restriction on the number of Filipino people who are allowed to be hired in the U.S., she said. Several months later, everything was approved for her move.

For the past 15 years, Liwanag has worked in the Middle East — in Saudi Arabia for five years and in Oman the past 10 years. Liwanag, who is single, said getting ready to move from the Middle East was not as involved as it would have been from the Philippines.

She gets emotional when she talks about her journey to America. She’s been trying to come to the U.S. since 2012.

“I am really touched by all the support. I’ve never had this kind of experience before in my life. I’m grateful and blessed to be part of the VDMC family and the lab family.”

Romero moved to Webster City with her husband and three young sons, ages 10, 6 and 4. She said her sons were worried about the move as they would be leaving behind friends, family and teachers.

“But once they got here and saw the snow, they forgot about all that,” she said, chuckling. Snow and cold weather were new to the family. The temperatures in the Philippines range from the upper 70s to mid-90s.

While Romero and Liwanag were preparing to move to Webster City, the staff at VDMC was getting ready to welcome the new employees. Schmidt said she and members of the administration team were able to secure apartments for them nearby.

“We wanted them to be close, so they didn’t need to worry about having a car or driving. We didn’t want them to worry about school or how the kids got to school,” she said. “Fortunately, there were two apartment complexes within walking distance.”

Everything seemed to fall into place. Since the two employees were arriving with just what they could carry on the plane, staff members at VDMC helped Romero and Liwanag furnish their respective apartments, donating beds, sofas and other furniture, as well as linens, cookware, food, games for the kids and many other items.

“We wanted to do what we could to make them feel welcome and comfortable,” Schmidt said. “We wanted them to have a cozy place to come home to.”

“It was really nice, fully furnished. We didn’t have to worry about anything,” Romero said of her new home. “We are really grateful.”

“This is my impossible dream that is now a reality,” Liwanag said. “By God’s grace, now I am here in the U.S.”

She said she was happy to meet Romero when she arrived in Webster City.

“I thought I would be alone here in Iowa, but suddenly I met my Filipino friend here,” she said of Romero.

The lab techs said they have enjoyed trying out American cuisine.

“We love pizza,” said Romero. “We love Mexican food, too. My husband likes to try everything.”

“I love pizza, too, and the sweets,” Liwanag admitted. She is particularly fond of donuts and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups.

“We don’t have Reese’s in the Philippines,” she said.

In the few short months that they have been here, both women said Webster City feels like home.

“We are so blessed to be part of VDMC and Webster City,” said Liwanag.

“This is a really great opportunity for us,” Romero agreed.

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