New Americans Alliance for Development (formerly AAFACD) was formed in 2005 after Wilhelmina Holder, a Liberian physician, trained in Toronto, Canada, and Oxford, England, found that she could not become a licensed physician here. The reason was that too much time had elapsed since her graduation from medical school, with no regard given to her experience or expertise. Since then, NAAD has registered over 200 foreign trained physicians (FTPs) from the Twin Cities. These doctors have worked to overcome the barriers they face to become licensed MDs. The barriers include: language, culture, finances (many doctors work at minimum wage jobs to support their families and send money back home), the cost in time and money for studying and taking tests, applications, and travel to tests and interviews. In spite of these barriers, these resilient doctors, many from war torn countries, persist and pursue their dreams of practicing in their chosen fields.
Advocating with the state legislature and the MN Dept of Health has opened the way for financial support to study and take tests and apply to residencies. At this time, the huge issue blocking these doctors is finding residency positions. Residencies are funded (up to 80%) from medicare money, a practice started in 1963 and which increases stopped in 1997. Since then more than 16 new medical schools have opened in this country, while the number of residency positions has stayed stagnant or decreased. It is estimated that by 2017, the number of US medical graduates will equal the number of US residency positions. Foreign trained physicians heretofore brought here to be trained through J-1 or H-1B visas will no longer be able to get into this country to train. US citizens trained in foreign medical schools, such as the Caribbean schools, will also be out of luck. It is the American citizens who are foreign trained physicians and who have been considered last in this process who are at the greatest peril.
Why does this matter to all of us, other than allowing for each person to reach their full potential? It is estimated that there will be a physician shortage in the US by 2020 of 120,000. One article stated that 40% of practicing physicians are thinking about retiring in the next 5-10 years. There is already a shortage in rural and underserved areas. MN has large populations of refugees and immigrants, tens of thousands of Somali, Hmong, and Latinos. Thousands of Bhutanese, Burmese, Karen, West Africans, Iraqis and others. These people do not have culturally appropriate health providers and most lack a health care home. This leads to the wide health disparities we have in MN between whites and people of color. Economically it costs us, as it results in lost work and the use of more expensive urgent care and Emergency Rooms that could have been handled in primary care clinics.
Currently, the MN State Legislature has called for formation of the Foreign Trained Physician task force to study the of how to utilize the rich and deep pool of foreign trained health care professionals into the MN health care system. They are to report to the State Legislature in January of 2015. We at NAAD applaud these efforts and hope to support new forward thinking about utilizing these culturally and linguistically appropriate people for the changing faces of MN.
We welcome your input, and have a great day!