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No longer out of practice

Will Nicholson, M.D. (center),
talks with members of the second
cohort of doctors (from left:
Khem Adhikari, M.D., Mahamud
Jimale, M.D., Adalberto Torres-Gorrin, M.D., and Said al Tawil,
M.D.) preparing to enter a residency
in Minnesota through a
University-funded program. (Photo: Libby Frost)

Program helps immigrant doctors become physicians in Minnesota

Somali-born Liban Hired, M.D., attended medical school in Turkey and served a residency there, specializing in infectious diseases. Then, unable to stay in Turkey or safely return to his homeland, he came to America, the land of opportunity.

Turns out America can also be the land of obstacles, especially when it comes to foreign-trained physicians. Hired, like an estimated 200-plus immigrant doctors in Minnesota, was unable to get the experience necessary to land a residency here, let alone a license to practice medicine.

So he did the next best thing. Upon arriving in Minnesota, he took on two full-time jobs — working on an assembly line and filling orders — plus a half-time job on weekends. At one point, he was working 96 hours a week.

Not exactly what he went to medical school for.

Some 12 years later, Hired is back on track. He’s in a residency program at North Memorial Medical Center and preparing to serve his community in family practice, thanks to a unique program funded for one year by the Minnesota Legislature and now supported and run by the University of Minnesota.

Locked out of the system

The problem for immigrant doctors is something of a Catch-22. To be accepted as medical residents in the United States, they need to meet highly specific prerequisites and have hands-on, clinical experience. But hospitals are hesitant to give them opportunities because of the uncertainty of their résumés; it’s easier to take American and international candidates coming straight out of well-known medical schools.

In Hired’s words, “You cannot get into the system.”

In 2010 Sen. Linda Berglin of Minneapolis sponsored a bill that provided $150,000 to the University to help prepare immigrant physicians to enter residency programs here.

After an open application process, three initial candidates were selected — all Somali doctors with significant experience, albeit not in America. In 2011 they wrapped up seven months of training — a month of general education, three months of inpatient general medicine, and three months of outpatient clinical work — and then began their residencies.

“We were able to train three physicians at a fraction of what it would cost to train someone from scratch,” says Will Nicholson, M.D., the program’s director and an assistant professor in the Medical School’s Department of Family Medicine and Community Health. Best of all, it helps address a shortage of medical professionals in immigrant communities. “We couldn’t need these people more,” he says.

A second cohort began the program in December. It includes physicians from Somalia, Cuba, Jordan, and Bhutan. “We had a much broader pool of candidates this year, now that the program is more well-known,” Nicholson says.

An adjustment to the ‘machinery’

Nicholson gushes at the thought of helping well-qualified doctors fulfill their calling.

They are all tremendous talents but were being held back by “superficial machinery,” he says. “If we can bypass that and get a really good physician back in the system, we all win.”

For Hired, it’s the difference between being an assistant manager at a blood bank — his most recent job — and putting his medical degree to full use.

“When the University of Minnesota created this program,” he says, “it was like a dream come true.”

By Rick Moore

For more information

The Preparing for Residency Program, run through the Medical School’s Department of Family Medicine and Community Health, will be accepting applications again in early fall 2012. The next classes will begin in December. For updates, visit the program’s website.

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