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fostering the humanistic practice of medicine publishing personal accounts of illness and healing encouraging health care advocacy

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Immigrant MD

I’ve spent the last eight years as a foreigner in the U.S. My last two years of medical school, I did my rotations in the Washington, DC, area, but had to leave the country every six months to renew my visa. Each trip, I would think, Will they let me back in this time? My stomach would migrate to my throat every time immigration officers directed me to secondary clearance. I felt like a criminal. They scrutinized the letter from my school validating my credentials, looking for a reason to kill my dreams.

I thought things would be different once I was a resident. But no one had told me that if I wanted to travel “freely” I would have to leave the country to renew my visa stamp every year. Who has the time or money for that on a resident’s salary? I traveled back home just once during my three years of residency. Imagine not seeing your family for two years, praying they stay well until you can hug them again. But when an officer yet again inspected my documents with doubt and scrutiny, he could not seem to look past “Immigrant” to see my “MD.” The uncertainty surrounding being allowed to reenter was too much for me.

Finally, I graduated from residency and thought, Surely things must get better now! I was wrong. My new title—Immigrant Family Physician—did not help my situation at all. It took nine months to get a visa. I am still trapped in a system that does not seem to want me here—legal or not.

H1-B visas are now being barred. My lawyer advises me strongly not to leave the country except for an emergency. My fear of traveling is greater than my fear of becoming infected with the novel virus. What if my parents get sick? Will I be able to attend my sister’s graduation?

Eight years later, I still worry that I won’t be allowed to reenter the U.S., maybe even more so now. But what about my patients? What about my life here? How is this fair? It’s not. To be an immigrant in this country means signing up for a life of uncertainty. This is a sad state of affairs.

Colette Charles
Glenburn, Maine


2 thoughts on “Immigrant MD”

  1. I’m so sorry you have been treated so poorly. I’m often enraged by how poorly our health care providers are being treated in general. I can only hope that we will have a new, sensible and compassionate president and things will improve.

  2. I have felt similarly with a very similar career path. The only 2 mollifying factors for me have been that my journey has been from Canada to the US (which is easier than from most other places) and that my visa says I am an ‘alien physician’ and with that about 1 in 10 of my border crossings are usually punctuated with the border agent suggesting I cross somewhere closer to Roswell, NM next time (I’m in the north east). Obligatory smiles are given and I move on. Nothing constructive to add here just shared disaffection.

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