The visa crackdown puts these rural doctors at risk

How Trump's Travel Ban Affects This South Dakota Doctor

At his pediatric practice in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, Dr. Alaa Al Nofal treats up to 10 patients a day. He has known some of them since they were born. Others, he still treats after they graduate from high school.

“I treat these kids for type 1 diabetes, thyroid problems, thyroid cancer, puberty disorders and adrenal gland disease,” he said.

The experience of Al Nofal is fundamental. He is one of five full-time pediatric endocrinologists in a 150,000 square mile area covering South Dakota and North Dakota.

Like most rural America, it is a region plagued by a shortage of doctors.

“We’re very lucky to have Dr. Al Nofal here. We can’t afford to lose someone with his expertise,” said Cindy Morrison, chief marketing officer for Sanford Health, a nonprofit health system based in Sioux Falls which manages 300 hospitals and clinics in predominantly rural communities.

Related: Visa ban could further worsen rural America’s doctor shortage

However, Sanford Health may lose Al Nofal and several other doctors who are crucial to its health care network.

Dr. Alaa Al Nofal [here with a patient] is one of five pediatric endocrinologists in South and North Dakota combined.

A Syrian citizen, Al Nofal is in Sioux Falls through a special workforce development program called the Conrad 30 visa waiver, which essentially waives the requirement that doctors who complete their residency on a visitor visa d J-1 exchange must return to their country of origin. for two years before applying for another US visa. The Conrad 30 waiver allows you to stay in the US for up to three years as long as you agree to practice in an area with a physician shortage.

After President Donald Trump issued a temporary immigration ban restricting entry to the United States to people from seven Muslim-majority countries, including Syria, Al Nofal is unsure about his future in the United States.

“We agree that something more needs to be done to protect the country, but this executive order will have a negative effect on the doctors in these countries who are badly needed in America,” Al Nofal said. “They may no longer want to practice in the United States.” The action is currently in legal limbo after a federal appeals court temporarily halted the ban.

Related: Trump Furious After Court Upholds Travel Ban Blockade

For the past 15 years, the Conrad 30 visa exemption has channeled 15,000 foreign doctors to underserved communities.

Sanford Health has 75 doctors in total with these visa waivers and seven are from the countries listed in the executive order. “If we were to lose Dr. Al Nofal and our other J-1 physicians, we would be unable to fill critical gaps in access to health care for rural families,” said Sanford Health’s Morrison.

And the ban could also hurt the pipeline of new doctors. The Conrad 30 Visa Waiver Program is powered by medical school graduates holding J-1 nonimmigrant visas who have completed their residencies in the US

rural South Dakota
Cows in a field outside Sioux Falls.

More than 6,000 medical students from foreign countries enroll in residency programs in the US each year using J-1 visas. About 1,000 of those students come from countries caught up in the ban, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges. J-1 visa holders who were out of the country when the ban went into effect were barred from entering the US and could not start or finish school as long as the ban was in effect.

The State Department told CNNMoney that the government can issue J-1 visas to people from one of the blocked countries if it is in the “national interest,” but would not confirm whether there would be a shortage of doctors. qualify for this consideration.

“The stress and worry created by the short-term executive order could have long-term implications, with fewer doctors choosing training programs in the states and subsequently increasing the shortage of providers willing to practice in rural and underserved areas “said Dr. Larry Dial, vice dean for clinical affairs at Marshall University School of Medicine in Huntington, West Virginia.

Related: Obamacare’s impact on this Alaskan town with just one doctor’s office

Al Nofal studied medicine in Damascus, the capital of Syria, and completed his residency at the University of Texas on a J-1 visa. He proceeded to a fellowship at the Mayo Clinic and then applied for a J-1 waiver, which placed him in Sioux Falls.

Nineteen months into their three-year engagement, Al Nofal is dealing directly or acting as aa consultant doctor to more than 400 pediatric patients per month on average.

He sees most of his patients at Sanford Children’s Specialty Clinic in Sioux Falls, where families often drive hours for an appointment. Once a month, he flies in a small plane to see patients at a clinic in Aberdeen, about 200 miles away.

children of sanford
Many of the Dr. Al Nofal’s patients drive hours to see him at Sanford Children’s Clinic in Sioux Falls.
aberdeen hospital
Once a month Dr. Nofal flies to Aberdeen, SD to see patients at an outreach clinic.

“It’s not easy being a doctor in this environment,” Al Nofal said, citing the long hours and notoriously cold South Dakota winters. “But as a doctor, I’m trained to help people no matter the circumstances and I’m proud of that.”

It’s one of the reasons why Al Nofal and his American wife Alyssa have fought to get the visa ban accepted..

“I have a 10-month-old baby and now I can’t travel to Syria. My family in Syria can’t come here,” she said. “Now my family can’t meet their first grandchild.”

“I know if we leave, I’ll probably never be able to come back,” he said. He also doesn’t want to travel anywhere in the country right now. “I’m afraid of how they’re going to treat me,” she said. He is also afraid of being stopped at the airport, even if he is traveling to another state.

Related: Trump travel ban and what you need to know

Almatmed Abdelsalam, who is from Benghazi, Libya, had planned to begin practicing as a family physician in Macon, Georgia, through the visa waiver program after completing his residency at the University of Central Florida School of Medicine in July

Everything was going well. Abdelsalam, who treats patients and veterans at the hospital, applied for and was granted a visa waiver. He signed an employment contract with Magna Care, which provides doctors to three Macon-area hospitals, and over the summer had begun looking for homes to move him, his wife and two children into.

almatmed abdelsalam
Dr. Almatmed Adbelsalam with his family.

But there was one last step. In order for your J-1 waiver application to be fully completed, you must obtain final approval from the Department of State and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

“The executive order came in the middle of that process and stopped my application to the State Department,” he said.

As a Libyan citizen (Libya is also subject to the visa ban), Abdelsalam fears the outcome.

“The hospital in Macon urgently needs doctors. Although they have hired me, I don’t know how long they can wait for me,” he said.

“Nobody can argue that it’s necessary to keep the country safe, but we also have to keep the country healthy,” he said. “Doctors like me, trained in the US at some of the best schools, are an asset not a liability.”

CNNMoney (New York) First published on February 10, 2017: 7:47 pm ET

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Previous post Stefanos Tsitsipas suffers a shock first-round loss to Daniel Galán at the US Open
Next post Dwyane Wade responds to ex-wife who objected to her transgender son’s name change