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International Doctors Face Challenges With Proposed Trump Travel Ban

Some call it the NFL draft for medicine. Others compare it to the Academy Awards. Last Friday’s Match Day was one of the biggest days in a medical student’s life. It’s when young doctors find out where they’ll spend the next 3 to 7 years for residency, and what type of medicine they’ll practice.

But for the thousands of international doctors who come to America to practice medicine, the Trump administration’s abrupt travel ban has carried the hand wringing beyond Match Day. Katherine Sullivan has the story.


I’m sitting in the cafeteria of Downstate Medical Center in Brooklyn with the newly matched Dr. Bassel Diebo. Diebo works as a researcher here at Downstate. It’s been a week since he first got the news of his match in an email, and he’s still in disbelief.

DIEBO: So I clicked on it, and it says in bold CONGRATULATIONS YOU HAVE MATCHED. And i just stopped. I paused. It’s like that right now. I just don’t know what to think about.  

Leading up to this moment, Diebo had more than just Match Day stress. As of January, he also had immigration concerns.

DIEBO: I am from Syria, I was graduated from Aleppo University.

There are over 10,000 doctors from the 7 countries originally named in President Trump’s travel ban working in the US, many of them filling a critical shortage of physicians in some of the most underserved regions of the country. But this year, it’s unclear if more of these doctors will be allowed to enter.

Diebo knows other Syrians who also applied for Match. They’ve been sharing concerns in a Facebook group since the moment the Trump administration announced the first travel ban back in January.

DIEBO: There was panic. Especially those who were at a kind of irreversible stage. Like, ok you did all the exams, you spent all the money. So yeah, it was chaos.

For these doctors, as well as residency programs they applied to, the travel ban came at an especially bad time.

GROVER: The response has been, kind of all over the map.

Dr. Atul Grover is the Executive Vice President of the Association of American Medical Colleges. He says, hospitals took different approaches to the new immigration orders.

GROVER: They’re certainly those programs that have said, ya know what? We’re just choosing the people that are best suited for our program, that are the most qualified, that we think will would be good physicians, potentially contribute to the health of our communities. And I think there’s other programs that said ‘I can’t take the risk of selecting a resident that can’t show up on July 1st .’

But for doctors who matched, the question remains: How will I get through the visa process?  Grover and others in the medical community don’t have answers yet,

GROVER: Certainly what we’ll try and do is see if there’s way we can expedite the review of health physicians and scientists with the state Dept, and homeland security, and hopefully with HHS as well.

In the meantime, immigration lawyer Kristen Harris gives this advice:

HARRIS: The answer is, do this as quickly as possible.

Quickly, in case the current legal freeze on the travel ban is lifted.  But Harris, who’s part of a taskforce for international medical students, says, even if the ban ultimately goes into effect, there still may be a few options for doctors.

HARRIS: There are a couple of carve outs that may apply even to applicants from those 6 countries even if the travel ban does go back into effect.

Bassel Diebo, the doctor from Syria, is lucky; he’s already in the US. He matched into Orthopedics, the most competitive field of medicine. While he’s still sorting out his visa, he has an undoubtedly positive outlook.

DIEBO: I trust America, period.  I think that if America is willing to send me   back to Syria, that means basically I’m in the wrong country.

Diebo’s not going to take a chance with his immigration status. He knows other doctors who matched and are back in Syria. They’re unsure how or when they’ll get to their first day of residency on July 1st. Even though Diebo’s entire family is back in Syria, he has no plans to leave. With so much uncertainty, Diebo says it’s safer to remain in the US. At least for now.

Katherine Sullivan, Columbia Radio News.


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