ST. PAUL, Minn. (April 19, 2016) — Minnesota’s first-in-the-nation program has resulted in two immigrant physicians securing positions in the University of Minnesota Pediatrics Residency Program.
Established by the 2015 legislature, the International Medical Graduate (IMG) Assistance Program is the first state-level effort in the country that supports pathways to licensure for immigrant and refugee physicians. Funded through the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH), the program’s ultimate goal is to increase Minnesotans’ access to primary care and eliminate health disparities. The continuum of services provided through grant funding includes career navigation, foundational skill building, clinical preparation and residency positions. Program staff and stakeholders are also developing a process for assessing and certifying the clinical readiness of international medical graduates for residency. The program recently submitted its first year report to the Minnesota Legislature, which can be found at International Medical Graduate Assistance Program.
The University of Minnesota Pediatrics Residency Program successfully applied for an MDH grant that funds one residency position for an immigrant physician. However, due to the qualifications of the applicants, the residency program selected two candidates, Hager Mohammed and Sahar Ahmed.
“We are very excited to work alongside these qualified physicians and prepare them to be pediatricians who will no doubt have a huge impact in the state,” said Dr. Mike Pitt, associate residency program director at the University of Minnesota Children’s Hospital.
Mohammed and Ahmed were both physicians in their home country of Sudan. When circumstances unexpectedly relocated them to Minnesota, they looked forward to becoming part of Minnesota’s physician workforce. However, their paths to becoming U.S. doctors were blocked until the recent opportunity provided by MDH and the University of Minnesota Pediatrics Residency Program.
Minnesota is home to an estimated 250 to 400 immigrant physicians who face significant barriers to entering medical practice, such as securing a medical residency, which is a necessary licensing step. Many residency programs require U.S.-based clinical experience and recent graduation from medical school, which effectively disqualifies immigrant physicians with extensive experience.
Ensuring that well-qualified physicians are able to enter the workforce is important for a variety of reasons. While Minnesota’s growing population is becoming increasingly diverse, the state’s primary care workforce is not keeping pace. At the same time, MDH projects Minnesota will experience a shortage of primary care providers in the next decade. In addition, Minnesota has among the worst health disparities in the nation, with people of color and immigrant populations experiencing poorer health outcomes and poorer general health than white Minnesotans.
Studies suggest that greater diversity in the health workforce leads to improved clinical outcomes for minorities and immigrant populations. One strategy to increase both the number and diversity of primary care providers is to integrate people trained as physicians in other countries into medical practice or alternate health professions in Minnesota.
“Studies suggest that a more diverse workforce leads to better outcomes for patients,” said Commissioner of Health Dr. Ed Ehlinger. “The talents of these uniquely qualified professionals can help Minnesota address our workforce shortage and health disparities.”