Visa crackdown puts doctors in these regions at risk

Ph.D. in his pediatric practice in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Alaa Al Nofal sees up to 10 patients daily. He has known some of them since they were born. Others are still treating him after graduating from high school.

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

AlNofal’s expertise is very important. He is one of five full-time pediatric endocrinologists in an area of ​​150,000 square miles covering both South Dakota and North Dakota.

Like most of the American countryside, it’s an area suffering from a shortage of doctors.

“I’m very fortunate to have Dr. Arnofar here. I can’t afford to lose anyone in his area of ​​expertise,” said Chief Marketing of Sioux Falls-based non-profit healthcare system Sanford Health. Officer Cindy Morrison said. 300 hospitals and clinics, primarily in the local community.

Related: Visa bans can exacerbate the shortage of doctors in the American countryside

Still, Sanford Health can lose AlNofal and a few other doctors essential to its medical network.

Dr. Nofal Patient
Dr. Araa Arnofar [here with a patient] Is one of only five pediatric endocrinologists in South Dakota and North Dakota combined.

Arnofar, a Syrian citizen, is in Sioux Falls through a special workforce development program called the Conrad 30 Visa Exemption. This basically exempts the requirement that a doctor who completes residence on a J-1 exchange visitor visa must return to his country of origin. Two years before applying for another American visa. The Conrad 30 exemption allows him to stay in the United States for up to three years, as long as the doctor promises to practice in areas where there is a shortage.

After issued by President Donald Trump Temporary immigration ban Al Nofar is uncertain about his future in the United States, as it restricts people from the majority of seven Muslim countries, including Syria, from entering the United States.

“I agree that we have to do more to protect the country, but this presidential order will have a negative impact on doctors in those countries who are in great need throughout the United States,” Al Nofar said. Said. “They may no longer want to practice in the United States.” After the Federal Court of Appeals, the proceedings are now a legal issue. pause Ban.

Related: Trump rage after courts support blocking travel ban

Conrad 30 visa exemption for the last 15 years We have poured 15,000 foreign doctors into a poorly serviced community.

Sanford Health has a total of 75 doctors on these visa exemptions, seven of whom are national doctors listed in the presidential directive. “If we lose Dr. Al Nofar and other J-1 doctors, we will not be able to close the significant gap in access to health care for rural families,” said Morrison of Sanford Health.

And the ban can also hurt the new doctor’s pipeline.The Conrad 30 Visa Waiver Program is offered by medical graduates holding J-1 nonimmigrant visas who have completed training in the United States.

South Dakota region
A cow in the field just outside Sioux Falls.

is more than 6,000 medical trainees from overseas It has been shown to enroll in the US Residence Program annually via J-1. According to the American Association of Medical Colleges, about 1,000 of these trainees come from countries involved in the ban. J-1 visa holders who were abroad at the time the ban came into effect are banned from entering the United States and may not start or end school as long as the ban is enforced.

The State Department told CNN Money that if the government is in the “national interest,” it could issue J-1 visas to people from one of the blocked countries, but it has to confirm whether the shortage of doctors will be the case. Told. You are eligible for such consideration.

“The stress and concerns created by short-term presidential orders can have long-term implications, fewer doctors choose training programs in the state, and are willing to practice in poorly serviced regions. The shortage of healthcare providers will increase, “he said. Larry Dial, Deputy Clinical Dean of Marshall University School of Medicine in Huntington, West Virginia.

Related: The impact of Obamacare on this Alaskan town with only one clinic

Arnofar attended the School of Medicine in Damascus, the capital of Syria, and completed his training on a J-1 visa at the University of Texas. He went on to fellowship at the Mayo Clinic, then applied for a J-1 exemption and was assigned to Sioux Falls.

For 19 months from his three-year commitment, Al Nofal will treat directly or On average, we consult doctors with more than 400 pediatric patients a month.

He sees most of his patients at the Sanford Children’s Specialty Clinic in Sioux Falls. In Sioux Falls, families often drive for hours to make reservations. Once a month, he takes a small plane to see a patient at Aberdeen’s clinic about 200 miles away.

Sanford children
Many of Dr. Arnofar’s patients drive for hours to meet him at the Sanford Children’s Clinic in Sioux Falls.
Aberdeen Hospital
Doctor once a month. Nofar flies to Aberdeen, South Dakota to see a patient at an outreach clinic.

“It’s not easy to be a doctor in this situation,” said Arnofar, a famous frigid winter and long time in South Dakota. “But as a doctor, I’m trained to help people in any situation and I’m proud of it.”

This is one of the reasons why Al Nofar and his American wife Alyssa had a hard time agreeing to a visa ban...

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

“I know that if we leave, we’ll probably never come back,” he said. He doesn’t want to travel anywhere in the country right now. “I’m afraid of how I’ll be treated,” he said. He is also afraid that he will stop at the airport, even if he is traveling to another state.

Related: Trump Travel Ban and What You Need to Know

Almatmed Abdelsalam from Benghazi, Libya, planned to begin practicing as a family doctor in Macon, Georgia through a Visa Waiver Program after completing his training at the University of Central Florida School of Medicine in July.

Everything was going well. Abbassalam, who treats inpatients and veterans, has applied for and been accepted for a visa exemption. He signed an employment contract with Magnacare, provided doctors to three hospitals in the Macon area, and began looking for his home to relocate himself, his wife, and two young children during the summer. rice field.

Almat Abbasalam
Dr. Almatmed Adbelsalam and his family.

But there was one last step. Final approval from the Department of State and the US Citizenship and Immigration Department is required to fully complete his J-1 exemption application.

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

Since he is a Libyan citizen (Libya is also subject to visa bans), Abbas Salam is afraid of the consequences.

“The hospital in Macon is in urgent need of a doctor. Even if they hire me, I don’t know how long they can wait for me,” he said.

“No one can argue that the country needs to be safe, but it should be kept healthy,” he said. “Doctors like me trained in some of the best schools in the United States are assets, not debt.”

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

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