How Trump’s anti-immigrant stand is affecting foreign doctors’ prospects in the US

As the tug of war continues between the US president and the nation’s legal system regarding last week’s anti-immigration executive rule, one sector that would be deeply affected by the rule is American healthcare. The four month ban that Mr.Trump has proposed could even be construed as a tentative measure- bans for prolonged periods being speculated by many as a possible move for the future.
It’s estimated that as many as 25% of physicians who practice in America were born outside America. The reliance on foreign med school graduates is particularly high in rural clinics and public hospitals. Often, they serve as primary care doctors- thereby catering to a crucial need since more American-born MDs move towards high-paying specialties.
Aside from foreign doctors literally thousands of occupational and physical therapists, pharmacists, dentists and other health professionals are sought by employers every year- a fact that came to light with a review of the visa requests conducted by the American medical news website statnews.com. It was found that in 2014- the last year for which data was available, over 15,000 foreign health care workers received H-1B visas- and almost half of them were physicians and surgeons. As you may know, the H-1B visas are meant to bring skilled workers to the US.

Foreign doctors wishing they had opted for some other country

America currently faces a deficit of 8,200 primary care doctors and 2,800 psychiatrists. The deficit only stands to become worse with the growth- and aging of the population, according to a 2016 report from the Association of American Medical Colleges(AAMC). As per their estimate, by 2025 America could face a shortage of up to 94,700 doctors. A third or so of the deficit would be primary care physicians.
Over 8,400 doctors in the US are from two of the countries in the executive order- Iran and Syria. And even more a number of foreign born doctors- nearly 50,000 are from India. Though India is not included in the travel ban, many fear that the executive order would eventually stretch to places like India- a sentiment expressed by AAMC’s executive vice president, Atul Grover when he spoke to the magazine, ‘Scientific American.’ In his own words, “The majority of our foreign doctors come from India and Pakistan, and while they’re not on the list I think when the environment feels this uncertain and this inhospitable, they’ll go to Canada and the U.K.”
A recent article published by the same magazine brings out the fear and uncertainties that the foreign doctors in the US face. Omar Alsamman is one such physician who left Syria in 2011 after finishing medical school. Omar did his residency in internal medicine at New Jersey. “I’ve been in paralyzing fear since the executive order was signed. My H1-B visa expires later this year and I don’t know if it can be renewed. I only came here to accomplish the American dream. I found love here. I found a home here. Now everything is in jeopardy,” he says.
Omar now wishes he had gone to work in the UK instead.

Med schools in a fix

Trump’s executive order has the US medical schools in a dizzy as well(dizzy in the wrong way, that is). By Feb end, American teaching hospitals must choose the newly qualified who would start staffing their wards from July. The process is called “matching.” However, now the hospitals face the risk of matching someone who may not be able to enter the country. If such is the case, the hospitals may end up running a residency program without enough doctors to care for the patients. And even if the rule isn’t implemented, foreign physicians are still jittery, many preferring to work in a country that’s more open to immigrants.
And then there is the question of what happens when a foreign health care worker’s work permit expires. A question which haunts Kinan Alhalabi, a Syrian doctor who has practiced in such esteemed establishments like the Mayo Clinic and Cleveland Clinic. His dilemma was also featured in the Scientific American article.
Kinan’s work permit will expire this summer. If it’s not renewed, no more would he be able to be a resident. Kinan has been in the country for two years now. Recently, he gave multiple job interviews hospitals recently to be a resident. After the Prez’ order, Kinan emailed the program directors of the hospitals since he wanted to know if the order would affect his chances. He hasn’t got any reply so far.
“I just paid my taxes. I see 30 American patients every day and try to heal them. It’s devastating after all this work to help American society and be a part of it that with one [presidential] signature everything could just fall apart, ”he said to the magazine.