We Need More Women of Color Like My Mother in Health Care
By Liz Derias-Tyehimba,
My mother became a doctor in the midst of Egypt’s June 1967 war with the state of Israel, caring for children harmed by bomb explosions, tank fire, and gunfire. She grew up in Egypt in the backdrop of sweeping African anti-colonial struggles of the 1950s and 1960s, and was inspired to become a doctor at a time when African nations – and women – began to assert their independence. But women doctors were still pretty rare.
When my family emigrated to the United States in 1982, they settled in Los Angeles. Although my parents weren’t living in a time of armed conflict, as they had in Egypt, they entered a new country wrought with explicit white supremacy, institutional racism, xenophobia and a declining, trickle-down economy fueled by the recessive policies of Ronald Reagan. She turned her energies towards raising my brother and me. My mother always longed to return to medicine, and at the age of 60, she graduated from Villanova University in Philadelphia as a registered nurse. Although she did not go on to practice as a nurse, she proved that women health care workers are an amazing breed of love, determination, passion and service.
To my surprise, last August, CNN broadcast story about immigrant doctors who aren’t able to practice medicine in the U.S. for various reasons. The article highlighted the intersection between gender, health care and immigration, emphasizing the “…long, costly road to getting a medical license in the United States” for immigrant doctors. For the first time, I finally understood the scale and scope of my mother’s experience when I saw it reflected in this article. As I did more research, I found a 2013 New York Times article, which described the prevalent problem of the U.S. health care worker shortage and the barriers for well-trained international doctors who could fill that shortage. The article states:
“The process usually starts with an application to a private nonprofit organization that verifies medical school transcripts and diplomas. Among other requirements, foreign doctors must prove they speak English; pass three separate steps of the United States Medical Licensing Examination; get American recommendation letters, usually obtained after volunteering or working in a hospital, clinic or research organization; and be permanent residents or receive a work visa (which often requires them to return to their home country after their training). The biggest challenge is that an immigrant physician must win one of the coveted slots in America’s medical residency system, the step that seems to be the tightest bottleneck.”
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