Last week, I began my medical residency alongside 30,000 other physicians at hospitals across the country. We represent the next generation of doctors, from surgeons training to save lives in the operating room to family physicians establishing roots in their local communities.
But there were also doctors missing ― people who would have come from overseas to care for Americans’ health if not for President Donald Trump.
The U.S. has been the world’s premier training destination for young physicians for decades. America’s universities and medical systems attract some of the brightest minds from around the globe for further medical training, and many in this talent pool stay here after completing residency to practice at local clinics and hospitals.
In fact, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges, nearly a quarter of practicing physicians in the U.S. are graduates of foreign medical schools. And studies have shown these doctors are more likely to practice in areas experiencing physician shortages. They’re also more likely to treat Medicaid patients and, according to some studies, even tend to have better patient mortality outcomes than U.S. medical school graduates.
In short, we need these doctors desperately.
But after the Trump administration in January 2017 produced the first iteration of its travel ban, a discriminatory policy rooted in xenophobia and fear-mongering, the U.S. saw a drop in the number of residency applicants from foreign medical schools. We saw another drop in foreign applicants in 2018, after a year of immigrant families being split up, visas and green cards being canceled, and countless people ― particularly Muslims or those coming from Muslim-majority countries ― being harassed at airports and other public spaces.
“As the son of Muslim immigrants and a first-generation physician, I’m getting a clear message: Immigrants are no longer welcome here.”
The decrease in foreign applicants in 2017 and again in 2018 is no coincidence. It is the direct effect of presidential leadership that has repeatedly targeted immigrants, attacked minority groups and sided with white nationalists. As the son of Muslim immigrants and a first-generation physician, I’m getting a clear message: Immigrants are no longer welcome here. The rest of the world has received the message too ― and now, we’re seeing the consequences.
Take a look at the countries targeted by Trump’s travel ban. The most recent estimates from the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education indicate there are more than 10,000 licensed physicians in the U.S. who graduated from medical school in the countries named in the original executive order. These are practicing physicians in communities big and small ― ER doctors providing emergency care, obstetricians delivering babies in the middle of the night, pediatricians taking care of young children.
With last month’s Supreme Court decision to uphold the Trump administration’s “watered down, politically correct version” of the ban, which followed a campaign promise to enact a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States,” America has slammed the door shut on an entire generation of physicians.
Those of us who work in the medical field know our health care system is losing some of the world’s most talented and caring young doctors. Our communities ― particularly rural and underserved areas where adequate medical care can be difficult to find ― will suffer. And our ability to innovate, to research new therapies and to develop medical technologies will be weakened.
“There are more than 10,000 licensed physicians in the U.S. who graduated from medical school in the countries named in the original executive order.”
To be clear, I’m not suggesting that we merely create exemptions from the travel ban for those with certain levels of education or establish a waiver process for a selected few. Rather, we must revisit the anti-immigrant policies that got us here. When we look to our leaders, we must reject rhetoric rooted in racism, xenophobia and bigotry. We must call on them to live up to the ideals of our great nation. And when they do not, we must hold them accountable.
As physicians, our work is rooted in hope. Sometimes, hope can be a stronger treatment than any drug or therapy. Hope can mean the difference between making that final push or giving up just moments too early. Hope sits at the center of what makes healing possible.
Americans too must hold on to hope. The Supreme Court has delivered a decision in line with the likes of Korematsu and Dred Scott ― shameful moments in our history in which the court also gave in to bigotry at the expense of justice and equality. As our political leaders sow the seeds of hate and our communities become more divided each day, it’s clear our nation is far from healthy.
And as with any sickness, we must act before it is too late.
Hammad Khan is a medical resident at the University of California Davis in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, where he has published research on the public health impacts of Islamophobia and on health disparities in minority and immigrant communities. Follow him at @HammadMKhan.