The Hill (Op-Ed)
By ABDUL RASHID PIRACHA
May 10, 2017
Each March, over 6,000 foreign medical students are matched with residency programs in Congressional districts across our nation. Hospital administrators and program directors depend upon these young doctors to fill the residency spots not matched by American graduates.
Starting each July, these newly minted physicians arrive on J1 or H1B visas. They begin residency program alongside American medical graduates. Most often, these residents immediately begin treating patients in underserved areas after they have finished their residency training.
In some instances, a resident might match in an inner-city training program at an institution overwhelmed with patients lacking preventative care and basic health literacy. These doctors will go anywhere and serve. They are committed to the health and well-being of their patients.Personally, I served as a cardiologist for over 40 years in a small city in Mercer County, West Virginia. When I arrived, there was no cardiologist in the county, within a 50-mile radius and I was the only cardiologist in the area for more than 10 years before others arrived. I would typically work more than 18 hours a day, seeing about 150 patients a week for years on end.
These young physicians, just like me, are citizen ambassadors. Their patients are exposed to the best and brightest minds from allied nations. Their proud families learn from the nightly phone calls they make back home just how unique America is.
Perhaps more importantly, these young physicians serve a critical need as our nation braces for a major physician shortage. If current retirements continue and patient populations grow, our nation will need to find upward of 90,000 new physicians by 2025. In coming years, patients will be faced with either longer wait times or receiving care from doctors with a mediocre academic pedigree. Naturally, neither option is inviting. Foreign medical graduates – the best of their accredited foreign medical schools – are an important part of this future planning.
Approximately, 25 percent of all physicians across our country were trained overseas. Each year, Pakistan is one of the top five countries supplying its best medical minds to fill this gap and serving American patients in medically underserved areas. There are more than 12,000 licensed and practicing physicians who are graduates of Pakistani medical schools, for example.
As these promising medical students are preparing for their final exams, they have traveled to American consulates across Pakistan for their visa interview. Sitting across from Consular Officers, they discuss their schooling, their dreams, their finances and their family tree. They present letters from American hospital administrators requesting that they start their residency programs the first week of July.
However, many of the current crop of medical students are now being denied visas at a rate we have never seen. This neither serves them nor the American patients that need care.
When I immigrated to the United States to begin my internal medicine and cardiology residency, I reflected nightly in my first year on the Hippocratic Oath. As Congress evaluates the budget of the State Department and the future of the Affordable Care Act, they must remember the basic principal of the Oath – do no harm. Congress should not forget the critical role foreign medical graduates play in serving American patients.
Congress must, therefore, do all it can to ensure that visas for these doctors continue well into the future, for their sake and ours. This is the true essence of America, a country we are proud to both serve and call home.
Abdul Rashid Piracha is a past President of the Association of Pakistani Physicians of North America (APPNA) and was also the Chairman of its Board of Trustees. APPNA is the largest and oldest Pakistani American organization. Piracha is a recently retired cardiologist and immigrated to the United States in 1966.
The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.
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