The first 12 graduates of the Achotenu program at the Henrietta Szold Hadassah-Hebrew University School of Nursing were honored at a ceremony on June 23. Achotenu, which in Hebrew means both “my sister” and “my nurse,” is a pioneering initiative to facilitate the entry of Ethiopian-Israeli women and men into the revered academic nursing program.

“You are our modern pioneers,” said Prof. Dina Ben Yehudah, Hadassah hematologist and dean of the Hebrew University School of Medicine.

Achotenu is indeed a breakthrough in providing opportunities for nurses from Ethiopian backgrounds who couldn’t vault over the barriers of psychometric scores to enter their dream profession of nursing. The pilot project was made possible by Hadassah, The Women’s Zionist Organization of America (HWZOA), thanks to a generous bequest for nursing scholarships from Patricia Lapan, a nurse, and businesswoman from Arizona and California.

While training programs for practical nurses already exist, modern health care, with its complex challenges, requires nurses with an academic education who are able to take on more advanced roles.

Hadassah’s partner in medical education, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, agreed that the Achotenu students could bypass the regular entrance examinations if they passed two pre-academic preparatory programs before entering the nursing school. HWZOA provided scholarships for tuition, living expenses, and tutoring.

“This is my dream come true,” says 26-year-old Yehudit Armias. “Like many of us from Ethiopian backgrounds, I was unsuccessful in scoring high enough on the psychometric tests to pass the entrance bar, even though I was a good student and held an important job in the Israel Defense Forces.”

The Armias family arrived in Israel during Operation Solomon in 1991, when 14,000 Ethiopian Jews were airlifted to Israel by the IDF within 36 hours. The family settled in the city of Lod, which is located in the geographic center of Israel but in the socio-economic periphery.

Working with bereaved families, Armias had almost given up on her dream of becoming a nurse when she saw a Facebook post about the Achotenu program. Armias was one of 18 students chosen from among 80 applicants. Two-thirds have now graduated.

Achotenu graduate Aviv Emharan wants to become a diabetic nurse specialist. “I was diagnosed with diabetes while serving in the IDF,” she relates. “These five years weren’t easy. I am the first in my family to go to college—my family’s first glance into the world of higher education. Being part of Hadassah means that I’m attached to something giant and amazing. I’m happy and proud to be a Hadassah nurse.”

Dr. Rely Alon, director of the Hadassah Medical Organization’s Division of Nursing and Allied Health Professions, told the graduates, “You have overcome every obstacle. Now you must become mentors to future cohorts of nursing students walking in your footsteps.”