Congress must remember the critical role foreign medical graduates play in serving Americans
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This month, approximately 6,000 foreign medical students were 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.

In July, these newly minted physicians arrive on J1 or H1B visas. They begin residency program alongside American medical graduates. These residents immediately begin treating patients in underserved areas after they have finished their residency training.

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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. In other instances, these young doctors might go to rural America and join a small team of specialists serving multiple counties.

These doctors will go anywhere and serve. They are committed to the health and well-being of their patients.

Personally, I serve in rural Ohio as a pain specialist. While I was born and educated in Pakistan, America is my home and I am a proud naturalized citizen. I see patients of all ages, races and religions. While performing spinal cord stimulation, discectomies or vertebroplasty, I meet patients from across the political spectrum and every segment of our society.

These young physicians, just like I was and continue to be, are citizen ambassadors. In an increasingly complex world, our patients are exposed to the best and brightest minds from Pakistan, a nation where many Americans have never traveled. The proud families of these young physicians learn from the nightly phone calls they make back home just how diverse and welcoming America is.

Most 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.

Roughly 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. These young physicians serve American patients in medically underserved areas. Today, across the United States, there are more than 12,000 licensed and practicing physicians who are graduates of Pakistani medical schools.

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 residency in general surgery and physical medicine, I reflected nightly on the Hippocratic Oath. Living in the swing state of Ohio, I know that the campaign trail is dominated by talk of immigration reform and the future of the Affordable Care Act. With the midterm elections fast approaching, Congress must remember the basic principal of the Oath – do no harm. Congress should debate these important public policy topics, but 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.

Dr. Rao Kamran Ali has practiced medicine in the United States since 2000. He is an expert on treating spinal and skeletal pain. He is a member of the American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, North American Neuromodulation Society, International Neuromodulation Society, American Society of Interventional Pain Physicians and American Academy of Pain Medicine. He serves as the 2018 Advocacy Chair for the Association of Pakistani Physicians of North America, the oldest and largest Pakistani-American organization.