Hundreds of doctors in LA County could be affected by new travel ban

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Among those who will feel the impact of President Trump's revised travel ban are hundreds of doctors in Los Angeles County who come from the six majority-Muslim countries named in his executive order.

"We are concerned that ... doctors might have challenges traveling to visit loved ones or there might be physicians in one of those countries right now who might have problems getting back to this country to care for his or her patients," said Gustavo Friederichsen, Chief Executive Officer of the Los Angeles County Medical Association.  Friederichsen said the ban would also make it difficult for patients in those countries seeking treatment in the U.S.

The executive order, which is due to go into effect on Thursday, temporarily blocks visas from being issued to citizens of Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria, Sudan and Yemen to "to protect the Nation from terrorist activities by foreign nationals." The ban does not include permanent residents and those who already have visas, but doctors applying for new visas or seeking to renew expired ones would require a waiver. Several states are challenging the order's constitutionality in court.

"Los Angeles is actually the metro area in the United States which has the highest number of doctors from the banned countries," according to Jonathan Roth, a Harvard PhD student and one of the researchers who worked on the Immigrant Doctors Project.  

Roth, along with other researchers from Harvard and MIT, used the location of the medical school where a doctor was trained as a way to calculate a doctor's country of origin. Since many doctors train abroad, Roth says it's likely that the number of doctors affected by the ban is much larger than their estimates. 

More than 900 doctors in Los Angeles went to medical school in one of the six countries listed in the executive order, more than three-quarters of them in Iran, he says. While many doctors could be citizens, permanent residents or visa holders exempt from the ban, Roth says they may still be affected if they need to renew their visas or if their loved ones are unable to travel. 

Source: Immigrant Doctors Project

One of the main purposes of the Immigrant Doctors Project is to show the contribution doctors from the banned countries make to healthcare, says Roth. The researchers estimate that doctors from the six countries see patients at 14 million appointments each year.

"While immigrant doctors are just a small fraction of the people from these countries in the United States, they’re a group for which their impacts are very tangible," says Roth.

The California Medical Association criticized the Trump administration's previous attempt to impose a travel ban, arguing that it would prevent foreign doctors from working in the country at a time when there is a growing shortage of physicians.  

"There is no doubt that a robust and well-trained workforce is essential to meeting the health care demands for all Californians – we can’t afford to ban qualified physicians who already adhere to rigorous U.S. legal and medical licensing requirements," Association President  Dr. Ruth Haskins said in a Feb. 17 statement

The American Medical Association has expressed concerns about the effect the revised ban could have on the medical profession.

“Hundreds of physicians from six countries are subject to the revised executive order and have applied to U.S. training programs and requested visa sponsorship," AMA President Dr. Andrew Gurman said in a statement.

"The new executive order leaves them in limbo and without an explicit waiver," which means "these foreign physicians will be unable to provide care in the U.S. when training programs begin on July 1," he said.

The administration should also clarify which factors will be taken into account when considering an application by someone seeking to enter the country to receive medical treatment, said Gurman.

The White House Press Office did not respond to a request for comment.

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