One week after taking office, President Donald Trump issued an executive order barring Syrian refugees from the United States indefinitely and banning the entry of visa-holders from six other Muslim-majority countries. Although federal courts have since taken action to block implementation of the order, as of February 21 the Trump Administration had indicated a revised executive order in the near future, perhaps as early as this week.
The California Medical Association (CMA), is urging the Trump Administration to focus on solutions that preserve patient access to care, alleviate our nation’s physician shortage and support health care workforce diversity.
The ban would have included physicians, medical students and other skilled professionals who contribute to the American workforce. Although this executive order was framed as a national security measure, when a quarter of practicing physicians in the U.S. are foreign-born or educated and more than 10,000 come from the seven affected countries, this overly-broad ban could have had harmful effects on the health and welfare of Americans across the nation.
“The Hippocratic Oath demands that physicians ‘first, do no harm,’ but this ban would have indeed been harmful,” said California Medical Association (CMA) President Ruth Haskins, M.D. “Medical staff, students and physicians are focused on saving lives and heralding medical advancements. We applaud the court for recognizing that it would have been unreasonable to disrupt their studies or care for patients in their attempts to achieve the American Dream.”
The executive order was introduced at a time when the country is already facing a growing physician shortage. The U.S. is projected to have 95,000 fewer physicians than the country needs by 2025. U.S. training hospitals posted 27,860 job listings for new medical graduates last year alone, but American medical schools only produced 18,668 graduates.
International medical graduates help offset our nation’s physician shortage, and the President’s ban could have further exacerbated that shortage – putting over 750,000 American patients at risk. President Trump’s executive order could have also disrupted thousands of medical students and graduates from foreign medical programs from being matched with U.S. residency programs in March 2017, which could have created serious staffing problems in major U.S. hospitals.
In California, much like the rest of the nation, international physicians are crucial to providing quality care to underserved populations. International medical students come from diverse cultural backgrounds and often speak multiple languages. In Los Angeles alone, over 185 languages are spoken and more than 50 percent of Los Angeles residents speak a language other than English in the home.
“There is no doubt that a robust and well-trained workforce is essential to meeting the health care demands for all Californians – we can’t afford to ban qualified physicians who already adhere to rigorous U.S. legal and medical licensing requirements,” said Dr. Haskins. “CMA will continue to support international medical students and residents and their families.”