Monday, February 27, 2017
If you live in a big city or metropolitan area, you probably don't think much about your healthcare. If you need a specialist, one or two or thirty are just around the corner. That's not the case in rural America. It's not even the case in urban centers (defined by the U.S. Census Bureau as having populations of 50K or more) that are otherwise surrounded by rural America.
For those of us who live in these zones, finding medical specialists can mean hours and hours of driving. This is not an exaggeration. I have driven nearly 7 hours to get to Rochester, MN, and I have driven 5 hours to get to St Paul, MN, in pursuit of medical care for my family. Those are one-way calculations. Which explains why, in December, I was so thrilled to get a referral to a specialist just one city away. It meant a mere two-and-a-half hour round trip drive.
The former Senator of North Dakota, Kent Conrad, understood this problem. He is the name behind the Conrad 30 Program, which waives the J-visa's foreign residency requirement for foreign physicians hired by states to practice in medically underserved areas of the country.
It's an amazing program. But President Trump's immigration policies threaten our ability to recruit and retain doctors in rural America.
CNN Money spoke with one doctor, a Syrian citizen who is just one of five full-time pediatric endocrinologists in the 150,000 square-mile area that covers North and South Dakota. Dr. Al Nofal worries that qualified doctors "may no longer want to practice in the United States."
I'm not worried, I'm terrified.