How does President Donald Trump’s controversial executive order on immigration trickle down to hospitals and patients? Morning Shift host Tony Sarabia talked to Dr. Darrell Kirch, president and CEO of the Association of American Medical Colleges; and Dr. Zaher Sahloul, senior advisor and former president of the Syrian American Medical Society.
What’s an example of how President Trump’s travel ban affects medical students?
Dr. Darrell Kirch: The United States has been very dependent on the willingness of foreign physicians to not only train here but practice. Our estimates are that as many as one in four physicians in the U.S was born in a foreign country. For decades we’ve depended on the best and brightest from around the world. This inflow of talent is what makes us world leaders of innovation.
Dr. Zaher Sahloul: There’s a Syrian physician in his first year of training at Christ Advocate Medical Center (who) went to Dubai to get engaged right before the executive order. When he tried to board a plane on Sunday, he was told he could not and he was turned back. He was told—politely— that the executive order prevents him from returning to the U.S. and that his J1 visa was revoked. There was a lawsuit filed by the local attorneys in Chicago, the government settled and he arrived Thursday.
Do we have a sense of how many doctors or medical students have been affected so far?
Kirch: We’re especially worried about nearly a thousand physicians from other countries who’ve received their degree, who are this year applying to enter residency training. We have thousands of people who are in the next few weeks finding out whether or not they’ll be accepted for further training in the U.S. They’re now very much in limbo, uncertain that they can get visas even if they are accepted into a U.S. program. We have a thousand people just connected to the seven countries singled out in President Trump’s immigration order.
What planning and vetting goes into preparing and being accepted into a medical program?
Kirch: The individual seeking to come to the U.S. would have gone through an incredibly rigorous process of examination to ensure their baseline medical degree is up to the standard for U.S. training programs—years of preparation. Furthermore, these U.S. hospitals and institutions have been interviewing and reviewing these applications for months. So this is a very carefully orchestrated process where disruptions can have some big downstream effects, like if doctors are even available to treat patients.
Do you foresee “brain drain” becoming an issue for the medical industry?
Sahloul: Many physicians who finish their training here and go back to their countries do not only take their medical knowledge, they take back their ideas related to democracy, returning as thought leaders. When you block doctors from Syria, Jordan, Libya and so forth, we’re blocking ambassadors to the United States.
Kirch: Disease and science know no borders. To start putting up excessive barriers will have a cumulative impact starting immediately.
Sahloul: Exactly. There were about 5,000 global academics that signed a petition, saying they’ll boycott any medical conferences in the U.S. to stand in solidarity with their colleagues from the seven countries. The free exchange of ideas in research and medicine will be compromised.
How are patients who travel to the U.S. affected?
Kirch: There are some really cutting edge treatments that are only available at certain U.S. centers, and the leaders of those centers are already saying that patients who are scheduled to come and seek treatment (that) they can’t get anywhere else are now facing difficulty getting to the U.S. That impact is life and death.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity. Click the ‘play’ button above to hear the entire interview.