Manpreet Malik, MD, a hospitalist at Emory University, takes care of patients with COVID-19 at Grady Memorial Hospital in downtown Atlanta. Born in India but living in the United States for more than 10 years, he is awaiting permanent resident status. At the current pace of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, that may be decades away.
Dr. Malik lives and works in the United States on an H-1B visa, which is based on employment in a specialty occupation. Although he has a job that he loves, his immigrant status, social life, and geographic location in the United States is, technically, entirely dependent on doing that job.
“For single-income families with doctors on visas, the pandemic brings anxiety and uncertainty about legal status in the U.S. in case the breadwinner gets sick, disabled or unemployed,” he said.
In a presentation to be given at the HM20 Virtual, hosted by the Society of Hospital Medicine, Dr. Malik will offer perspective on the current challenges facing immigrant hospitalists and health care workers, especially in a U.S. health care system stretched thin and one in which many health professionals born outside the United States are working on the front lines. These challenges should be motivation to make legislative changes to give these health care workers more stability, flexibility, and peace of mind, he said.
The talk – to be given along with HM20 course director Benji Mathews, MD, SFHM, and called “The Immigrant Hospitalist: Navigating the Uncertain Terrain During COVID-19” – will describe a long-standing issue and outline a path forward, the two physicians said.
“The objective of this talk is to really highlight the contributions of these physicians and health care workers and also to provide a call for action for our hospitalist colleagues. This talk paints a picture of what my family and thousands of the other immigrant health care worker families are going through,” Dr. Malik said.
Dr. Mathews said that many physicians do not have benefits they can fall back on should they fall ill. And without the jobs their visas are based on, they could face deportation.
“That’s extreme – but the pathway towards that is very much there,” said Dr. Mathews, who was born in the Middle East and immigrated to the United States, received a green card, and later his citizenship. He now advocates for immigrant health and immigrant health care workers.
Dr. Malik and Dr. Mathews recently published a perspective piece in the Journal of Hospital Medicine. In it, they pointed out that 16.4% of health care workers are immigrants, and 29% of physicians are immigrants. Among practicing hospitalists, 32% are international medical graduates. They called for reform to visa regulations to allow physicians who are immigrants to travel to areas where they are most needed during the pandemic, for extensions of visa deadlines, and exemption from future immigration bans or limitations. These measures would only bolster the health care workforce that is under such strain during the pandemic, they write. ()
Dr. Malik said that, even while under added personal strain caused by the uncertainty of the past several months, he has never questioned his decision to be a physician in the United States.
“Now, more than ever, there is a sense of purpose and a passion to make a difference for our patients,” he said.
“I think most of us get into medicine and become hospitalists because we want to care for people, because we want to serve, because we want to be able to take care of sick, hospitalized patients, and that can be anywhere in the world, whether you’re in India serving a population that you grew up with or whether you’re in the U.S. serving the population that are your neighbors, your friends, your community, or people that are vulnerable. You’re serving humanity, and that is the ultimate goal.”