Nearly 150 immigrant physicians work toward health licensure in MN

Minnesota has a doctor shortage, yet hundreds of immigrant doctors cannot practice in the state. It’s a problem with a first-of-its-kind solution: a state program to help immigrant doctors get into residency and then work in underserved communities.

The Minnesota Department of Health estimates there are 250 to 400 immigrants who received medical degrees in other countries. The department also estimates a statewide shortage of 2,000 to 4,000 doctors, mostly in rural areas, by 2025.

The discrepancy is the impetus for the International Medical Graduate Assistance Program, started in 2015. The program helps immigrant doctors get their licenses by breaking through the barriers: proving their medical school is properly accredited, getting through the difficult and expensive tests and finding residency.

In return, the program requires the doctors to work at least five years with underserved communities and to eventually pay $15,000 to help another immigrant—a pay-it-forward requirement.

“I think Minnesota is taking the stage in being an innovator, leading the nation in healthcare, which is awesome,” said Yende Anderson, the coordinator for the program.

Anderson said the program not only helps bring doctors to underserved areas, but it also helps immigrant patients by providing doctors more sensitive to their cultures. Further, she believes it helps all Minnesotans by introducing global experience.

“I also think now that we live in a world of traveling. Whether you’re an immigrant or not, you may encounter something that is not necessarily the norm in the United States, and having these physicians integrated into the system can educate the entire system,” Anderson said.

Currently, the program is helping 148 immigrant physicians, including Saida Yassin, who received her medical degree in Turkey and practiced medicine in Tanzania. She said the program “keeps you focused.”

“We were all passionate once upon a time to become physicians. We went to school for it, then emigrated to America […] the dream’s still there, but the possibility of getting into the system has been very hard for us,” Yassin said.

Next month, Yassin hopes to learn she matched for a residency.

The uncertainty over travel due to President Trump’s executive order has caused stress for some physicians in the program, including some canceling visits home, but state leaders say any impact has been indirect.