ST. PAUL, Minn. (Feb. 8, 2017) — Minnesota’s first-in-the-nation International Medical Graduate Assistance program made significant strides toward a more diverse medical workforce in 2016, according to a Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) report issued to the Minnesota Legislature this week.
According to the report, this progress offers important benefits for the program participants and the communities they aspire to serve. The full report is available online at International Medical Graduate Assistance Program: Report to the Minnesota Legislature, February 2017 (PDF).
Established through bipartisan legislation in 2015, the International Medical Graduate Assistance program supports pathways to licensure for immigrant and refugee physicians. MDH estimates there are nearly 400 immigrant medical graduates from three dozen countries living in Minnesota and interested in entering Minnesota’s health care workforce.
According to the report, the program is helping 148 immigrant physicians seek medical residency positions or consider alternative health careers. The report also recommends that licensing options be established for immigrant physicians. Licensing options would create additional pathways into practice for more experienced practitioners. The report also indicates the program is positioned to help expand the use of primary care, eliminate health care disparities through diversifying the health care workforce with culturally and linguistically appropriate care, and increase the number of physicians in rural and underserved areas of the state.
In response to growing demands for care and persistent health disparities, Minnesota is trying to increase its workforce of physicians by utilizing the skills of those who have immigrated here after receiving advanced medical training in other countries. Many of these medical graduates did not plan to leave their countries of origin but ultimately fell victim to political persecution, civil unrest or war in their countries. Faced with the upheaval, they uprooted their families and relocated to Minnesota where they now hope to contribute in their new communities. According to the MDH report, about 20 percent of Minnesota physicians graduated from medical schools outside the U.S. Most arrived on “J1 student visas” to do medical residency in Minnesota and are legally allowed to remain, working in underserved areas. It is unclear whether changes in federal immigration policy will impact the program.
“The International Medical Graduate Assistance program is a great example of health equity in action,” said Health Commissioner Dr. Ed Ehlinger, “However, major immigration policy changes at the federal level could harm this program and other physician recruitment efforts that directly affect Minnesotans’ access to culturally appropriate health care and public health services. We will work with those in the program to do whatever we can to minimize disruption and continue their progress so they can help all Minnesotans and Minnesota communities be as healthy as possible.”