UpGlo staff members celebrate with alumna Olive on her residency placement

Getting Foreign-Trained Doctors Back to Work

By Nikki Cicerani

In 2021, if every medical school graduate in the nation decided to specialize in primary care, we still wouldn’t have enough general practitioners to meet the shortfall expected by 2025. This shortage will be most acute in rural and underserved communities that have a hard time attracting talent. Yet there are thousands of foreign-trained doctors already here in the U.S. who — despite being work authorized — can’t use their medical degrees due to the enormous barriers to relicensing.

Take Eden as an example: as a physician in Ethiopia, Eden always devoted herself to helping underserved communities. She spent three years working in the rural countryside, despite the lack of access to modern technology and medications. When she decided to seek asylum in the U.S. after conditions in Ethiopia worsened, she planned to use her medical background to help others in America.

Once she arrived in the U.S., however, she was surprised to learn that entering the medical field as a foreign doctor was not as easy a transition as she had imagined.

“My expectation was that I would find a job, if not as a doctor then something within the healthcare field,” Eden said. “But that was not what I found.”

Relicensing as a physician in the U.S. brings a steep set of challenges. Newcomers who earned their medical degrees abroad are required to:

  • Have their credentials certified by a designated educational commission;

The process can cost tens of thousands of dollars — making it out of reach for many newcomers, who then opt to take jobs unrelated to their professional field in order to survive and support their families.

A percentage of immigrants, refugees and asylees take on the obstacles, however, and we benefit enormously when they do.

  • Foreign-educated doctors make up 28% of physicians and surgeons in the U.S.

Determined to get back to her career, Eden submitted her resume, unsuccessfully, to countless institutions around the country. Finally, she got an opportunity to do an observation in a private clinic in Atlanta. Shortly after, she found Upwardly Global, and our coaches helped her improve her resume and interviewing skills while she completed the steps to secure a residency placement.

Earlier this year, Eden matched into a residency program in internal medicine at a New York City hospital, and has started the program that will bring her back to her goal of being a practicing doctor. After completing the residency, she hopes to pursue a fellowship in endocrinology. “I think it would be a privilege to continue to work with the underserved,” she said.

Upwardly Global has helped more than 50 foreign-trained physicians get back to their careers as medical doctors, or into medical residency programs. We have assisted hundreds more in finding career paths in healthcare and medical research, as medical assistants, nurses, technicians and other roles. All of them are smart, committed professionals who left behind successful careers in their pursuit of a better, safer home for themselves and their families. And once here, they seek to contribute by applying their medical expertise to help people in the U.S.

Foreign-trained doctors and healthcare workers strengthen the industry and provide critical care in communities across the U.S. While maintaining high standards for credentialing and licensing is important, we can and should streamline the process to ensure that qualified and dedicated physicians are able to integrate into the U.S. system. That is why Upwardly Global supports efforts to:

  • Create opportunities for foreign-trained physicians to participate in clinical observerships and externships, which help newcomers to make necessary connections and acculturate to American clinical practices

o Help IMGs connect with peers and mentors in the field

o Provide assistance in preparing their personal essays and residency applications

o Train IMGs to succeed in very competitive residency interviews

These professionals deserve the opportunity to regain the careers they love and have trained for, and we all benefit from their talent.

Nikki Cicerani is the President and CEO of Upwardly Global.

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Upwardly Global is a national nonprofit organization that works to eliminate employment barriers for skilled immigrants and refugees.