Delta Doctors Program Attracting Foreign Physicians to Medically Underserved Areas
The Delta Regional Authority (DRA) Delta Doctors program has been a win-win for foreign physicians attracted to locate in Medically Underserved Areas (MUAs) of Arkansas and elsewhere in the Delta and the patients who benefit from the care, according to Ramona Taylor, director of development, Crittenden Regional Hospital, West Memphis.
About 25 percent of all doctors who train in the U.S. are foreign, with about half of those in the country under a J-1 Visa that requires them to go home for two years when they complete medical school. But doctors who decide to stay in the U.S. and are willing to serve in MUAs can be sponsored for a waiver of their home residency requirement by a state health agency or a federal agency such as the DRA, which covers 250 counties in eight states.
Taylor said the program has had a wonderful impact in West Memphis.
“It opened up patient visits and increased admissions at the hospital,” she said. “We have had two physicians who were in internal medicine, and two pediatricians. They were very well assimilated into the community. They enjoyed the community being part of the Memphis Metropolitan area and we have the advantage of being only 15 minutes from the Memphis International Airport. We have cultural amenities in Memphis that smaller towns our size don’t have available to them.”
States are limited to 30 J-1 physician waivers per year. But federal agencies like the DRA don’t have that limit. DRA also helps with a tracking system to verify the beneficial impact to the community.
“They help track the numbers of Medicare, Medicaid, and uninsured visits as well as total visits,” Taylor said. “That is important information to have. The DRA was wonderful to work with. I highly recommend them. They are your advocates.”
The ideal is when the foreign physicians complete their three-year commitment they decide to stay in the community practicing medicine. But even when the physician really likes the community, sometimes other factors can influence the decision.
The Crittenden Regional Hospital has attracted four foreign physicians with the Delta Doctors program. One, pediatrician Dr. Pankaj Vaidya, is still located at Crittenden. The other three left. One married and relocated to another state where her husband, also a physician, was located. One physician left because his wife, also a physician, got a residency in Chicago. A third doctor relocated because of receiving an infectious disease fellowship in Louisiana.
“He still owns a house here and may return when he finishes his fellowship,” Taylor said. “We keep in touch.”
Crittenden Regional Hospital hopes to bring in more foreign doctors to serve in the area, and has a couple of applications being prepared for submission through the DRA in the next couple of months.
In addition to the obvious benefits, there are also other advantages to attracting physicians from other countries.
“The foreign trained physicians bring a lot of cultural diversity to the community,” Taylor said. “They have a difference perspective on the world. A number have European experiences. I thought they enriched our community. They found our hospital to be well equipped and our patients appreciative of the medical care they were receiving. I think it has been a good experience for them, as well as for us.”
Health care providers interested in hiring foreign doctors usually work with an attorney because of the complexity of the process. One attorney who helps place foreign physicians throughout the 250-county Delta region is Greg Siskind, a Memphis immigration lawyer with Siskin Susser LLC (www.visalaw.com
“The DRA is very successful in helping communities get the doctors they need,” said Siskind, who is author of the book J-1 Visa Guidebook. “It helps fit an important need for the community that otherwise might have been left unfilled.”
MUA areas of Memphis, West Memphis and neighboring counties in Tennessee and Mississippi have had the most success throughout the Delta in attracting large number of foreign doctors. Siskind agrees with Taylor that many physicians like being located near a large city.
“A lot of times foreign doctors want to be near people from their home country or background\ethnicity,” Siskind said. “It is easier to find that in a metro area. That is one advantage of Memphis as opposed to smaller communities. Some doctors want very much to be in a larger city.”
Siskind believes if more people knew about the Delta Doctors program, they would be taking advantage of it.
“Even so, a number of doctors have used the program successfully,” he said.
For more information, call Amanda J. Taylor, DRA Delta Doctor program director, at 662-624-8600, extension 26, or send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org