By Jane Orient, MD
A 90-day ban on travel from seven countries has sparked tremendous outpourings of “worry” or outright opposition by some 33 medical organizations.
“The community is reeling over the order, fearing that it will have devastating repercussions for research and advances in science and medicine,” states an article in Modern Healthcare.
Certainly the order is disrupting the lives of individual physicians who have won coveted positions in American medical institutions and were not already in the U.S. when the order was issued. Also their employers have a gap in the work schedule to fill. War tears people’s lives apart, however innocent they may be. And countries that sponsor terrorism have effectively declared war on the U.S.
But is American medicine so fragile that it can’t survive a 90-day delay in the arrival of physicians, most of them trainees, from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, and Sudan? After all, every year more than a thousand seniors in U.S. medical schools do not land a position in a post-graduate training program through the annual computerized “Match” of graduates with internships. After another chance through the Supplemental Offer and Acceptance Program, or SOAP, hundreds of seniors are still without a job. This means that they cannot get a license to practice in the U.S., however desperate rural communities or inner-city hospitals are to find a physician, and their four years of rigorous, costly post-college education are wasted. Yet James Madara, CEO of the American Medical Association (AMA), is worried about vacant residency slots, according to a Feb 3 article in MedScape by Robert Lowes.
Entry to medical school is highly competitive, so presumably all the students are well-qualified. Can it be that graduates from Sudan are better trained? Does the U.S. have so few young people capable of and interested in a medical career that we have to depend on a brain drain from countries that are themselves desperately short of physicians?
For all the emphasis on “cultural competence” in American medical schools, and onerous regulations regarding interpreters for non-English speakers, what about familiarity with American culture and ability to communicate effectively with American English speakers? Some foreign-born graduates are doubtless excellent, but many American patients do complain about a communication gap. So why do some big institutions seem to prefer foreigners? Could it be that they want cheap, and above all compliant labor? Physicians here on an employment-related visa dare not object to hospital policy.
Whatever the reasons for them, here are some facts about the American medical work force:
- One-fourth of practicing physicians in this country are international medical graduates (IMGs), who are more likely to work in underserved areas, especially in primary care, according to Madara.
- According to the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME), 10,000 IMGs licensed in the United States graduated from medical schools in the seven countries affected by the ban.
- Immigrants account for 28% of U.S. physicians and surgeons, 40% of medical scientists in manufacturing research and development, and 15% of registered nurses, according to the Institute for Immigration Research at George Mason University. More than 60,000 of the 14 million workers in health-related fields were from the seven countries affected by the ban.
Is medicine, like agriculture, now filled with “jobs that Americans won’t do”? Actually, we have more than enough Americans who love medical work. But some of best doctors are being driven out by endless bureaucratic requirements, including costly “Maintenance of Certification™” programs that line the pockets of self-accredited “experts” but contribute nothing to patient care. They are being replaced (substituted for) by “mid-levels” with far less training. Then there are thousands of independent physicians having to retire or become employees because they can’t afford the regulatory requirements—soon to be greatly worsened by MACRA, the new Medicare payment system. Physician “burnout” is becoming so bad that we lose up to 400 physicians—the equivalent of a large medical school class—to suicide every year.
The U.S. should be a beacon to attract the best and brightest, and it should welcome those who want to become Americans. Unfortunately, the lives of Americans, as well as the opportunities of aspiring foreign-born doctors, are threatened by those who desire to kill Americans and destroy our culture. These must be screened out.
Meanwhile, the reaction of organized medical groups to the travel ban is spotlighting serious problems in American medicine.
Jane M. Orient, M.D.obtained her undergraduate degrees in chemistry and mathematics from the University of Arizona in Tucson, and her M.D. from Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons in 1974. She completed an internal medicine residency at Parkland Memorial Hospital and University of Arizona Affiliated Hospitals and then became an Instructor at the University of Arizona College of Medicine and a staff physician at the Tucson Veterans Administration Hospital. She has been in solo private practice since 1981 and has served as Executive Director of the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons (AAPS) since 1989. Dr. Orient is the 2017 recipient of The Edward Annis award for medical leadership.