There was only one problem when she arrived a little more than a year ago. She couldn't speak English so there was no way that she could immediately practice medicine here.
"My husband [Esteban] first left Cuba and came here nine years ago," Gomez said. "It was very difficult for us to get through the tough times. My goal was to be a doctor again, but they don't recognize my degree in the United States. So I had to start over again."
Needing to learn the language in a hurry, Gomez enrolled in a special program held at the North Bergen Free Public Library that enabled Cuban refugees to learn English through a computer-based lesson plan established by the Jewish Vocational Service organization.
The program, which was funded through federal grants from the Office of Refugee Resettlement, teaches students how to communicate effectively with customers and superiors, as well as problem-solving, the effects of attitude, personal appearance, working with dissatisfied customers, work ethics, and the intricacies of American culture.
The Jewish Vocational Service established the course and has been introducing it to several immigrant service organizations throughout the state.
The International Institute of New Jersey, an organization that provides immigrants help with legal services, counseling, job placement and a variety of other services, referred 20 or so immigrants who reside in either North Bergen or West New York to the library to participate in the program.
Denise Egidio was the teacher of the course.
"It teaches them job skills in the retail world, for health care and hospitality," Egidio said. "It teaches communication skills, as well as personal appearance and cultural awareness."
"The program was specifically designed to meet the needs of Cuban refugees," said Nick Montalto, the executive director of the International Institute of New Jersey. "The JVS happens to be a very strong agency in dealing with adult education and developed this program that we felt would be very useful to our patrons."
Showed their progress
On Wednesday, the students of the program gathered to show just how far they had come in the program.
"I definitely feel like I'm born again," said Gomez, whose English skills were truly remarkable for an adult who had never spoken a word of English before a year ago. "The first step I needed to take here was to learn the language. Without it, I couldn't do a thing. The program has given us all the opportunity to learn and has introduced us to a life here. It's been very important to me, and I am truly grateful."
Gomez said that Egidio was very helpful in teaching Gomez the medical vocabulary, which is generally confusing even for the native English speakers.
"I've been working very hard at it," Gomez said. "I've been able to learn many words and terms I would need in my career."
Teresita Coelho, a resident of West New York, was an ophthalmologist for 31 years in her native Cuba. But she sacrificed that career when she came to the United States a little less than a year ago.
While Gomez hopes to study medicine once again, Coelho knows that her days as a practicing physician are done.
"It's impossible," Coelho said. "It's too late now. I just try to learn as much as possible."
Coelho has been fortunate enough to find a job working two days a week at an eye care facility in Jersey City. Gomez is part-time as a medical assistant for a local doctor, but she spends most of her time studying to take the state certification tests in the future.
"I'm fighting for that," Gomez said. "I have to work hard at it. I read English all the time, watch TV in English. I bring my dictionary with me wherever I go. It's been very hard for me, but I'm learning."
Her husband has also worked very hard in studying his new language, eventually becoming an electrical engineer. He will receive his Master's degree in engineering from Fairleigh Dickinson University in May.
Another graduate of the program, Gustavo Mendoza of Guttenberg, is an accomplished violinist who performed for the audience. Since his arrival from Cuba last year, Mendoza has been able to record a CD of his music - another example of how the program has worked.
"These students have been a pleasure to work with," Egidio said. "They're happy and motivated. They've really done a great job in learning the course."
North Bergen Mayor Nicholas Sacco was on hand for the presentation and received a plaque from the International Institute of New Jersey for allowing the program to be taught at the library.
"The one thing that I have found is that the program helps the industrious, helps those who work hard and want to learn the English language," Sacco said. "They all want to move ahead in their new home and put the time and effort in to succeed."
"It really proves that the course works," said Nancy Fisher, the director of educational training for the JVS. "These people have been a credit to the program."
For more information, call the International Institute of New Jersey, (201) 758-0022 x105, and ask for Roxanna Prieto.