Magazine article Islamic Horizons

Muslim Physicians Fill Void in Doctor Shortage

Magazine article Islamic Horizons

Muslim Physicians Fill Void in Doctor Shortage

Article excerpt

Muslim Americans have greater opportunities to contribute towards the nation's heathcare.

A NEW STUDY BY THE INSTITUTE for Social Policy and Understanding (ISPU) titled "A Window into American Muslim Physicians: Civic Engagement and Community Participation," finds that many Muslim physicians have expressed an interest in reaching out to non-Muslim communities after 9-11, inspired by their faith to practice medicine and serve the community, local place of worship and charities. Many of these physicians devote their careers to areas of country where healthcare professionals are sorely needed.

Before the passage of the Hart-Cellar Act in 1965, U.S. immigration policy excluded non-white immigrants, specifically Asians and Africans. The legislation, passed under President Lyndon B. Johnson first opened the door for foreign-born, non-white Muslims to enter the country. Thus after 1965, the numbers of immigrants from the Middle East and Asia increased dramatically, with more than half from these regions being Muslim. The new policy, combined with other initiatives like visa programs, has led to Muslims as the fastest-growing religious population in the country.

That year also marked the creation of Medicare and Medicaid, increasing the availability of medical care in the U.S. The legislation, however, created a void, as there were too few doctors to treat the growing number of patients.

Enter foreign-born physicians, many of whom were Muslim, and who, just years before, were denied visas under the preHart-Cellar immigration policies.

In the second half of the 20th century, the federal government began encouraging immigration of international medical graduates by easing the path to permanent residency for those who would work in under-served areas for at least three years. While the immigration laws for foreign-born doctors remain complex, for most there is a clear path to residency. The programs have succeeded in attracting foreign -born physicians to the U.S. But population growth, increased physician visits and an aging population have now created additional demand for primary care physicians. The Association of American Medical Colleges reports that the shortage of physicians could balloon to as many as 150,000 in the next 15 years.

As was the case in the 1960s, foreign-born physicians have the potential to keep the shortage from reaching a crisis point. Today, it is estimated that about one-quarter of U.S. physicians are foreign-born, many of whom are Muslim. While one-time G.O.P. primary front-runner Herman Cain proclaimed his fear of using Muslim doctors, about 50,000 Muslim American physicians are practicing in the U.S.

The ISPU study offers the first look into the demographics of Muslim American physicians. The report used survey and focus group discussions with more than 500 respondents, many of whom were foreign-born. …

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