Patients in Alexandria, La., were the friendliest people Dr. Muhammad Tauseef ever treated. They’d drive long distances to see him, and often brought gifts.
“It’s a small town, so they will sometimes bring you chickens, bring you eggs, bring you homemade cakes,” he said. One woman even gave him a puppy. “That was really nice.”
Tauseef was born and raised in Pakistan. After going to medical school there, he applied to come to the U.S. to train as a pediatrician.
It’s a path thousands of foreign-born medical students follow every year — a path that’s been around for more than half a century. And, like most foreign-born physicians, Tauseef came on a J1 visa. That meant after training he had two options: return to Pakistan or work for three years in an area the U.S. government has identified as having a provider shortage. He chose to work with mostly uninsured kids at a pediatric practice in Alexandria, La.
“That was a challenge,” he said, “but it was rewarding as well, because you are taking care of people who there aren’t many to take care for.”
The U.S. medical system depends on doctors like Tauseef, said Andrew Gurman, president of the American Medical Association. He worries that President Donald Trump’s executive order on immigration, which is now on hold after a federal appeals court ruling.
“International medical graduates have been a resource to provide medical care to areas that don’t otherwise have access to physicians,” he said. “With the current uncertainty about those physicians’ immigration status, we don’t know whether or not these areas are going to receive care.”
According to the AMA, about 280,000 international medical graduates practice in the U.S. today — that’s about one in four doctors. Some are U.S. citizens who’ve gone abroad for medical school, but most aren’t.
“They don’t all have permanent visas and so a lot of them are concerned about what their status is going to be, whether they can stay, whether they can go home to visit family and still come back, and the communities they serve have similar questions,” he said.
And the care is top-notch. A study just published in the journal BMJ shows Medicare patients treated by doctors from foreign medical schools get just as good care — and sometimes better — than those treated by U.S. medical graduates.
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