Medical groups and academic centers have warned about the effect on medical research quality and healthcare in the US following President Donald Trump’s executive order to ban nationals and refugees from 7 predominately Muslim countries: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.

This executive order bans the entry of all refugees for 120 days, with the exception of Syrian refugees, who are banned from entering the country indefinitely. Nationals, however, are banned for 90 days. 

The Department of Homeland Security interpreted the executive order to include holders of “green cards.” Since the signing of this executive order, protests have erupted throughout the country, condemning this as an act against Muslims. Several medical associations and academic centers have issued statements regarding this immigration ban as it pertains to US healthcare.

Nitin Damle, president of the American College of Physicians, said in a statement that foreign physicians and medical students working in the United States already have to be “thoroughly vetted” in order to obtain their visas. In addition, he mentioned that this executive order was blatant “discrimination based on religion” and should be rescinded. Lastly, he says “if the executive order is not permanently rescinded, blocked by the courts, or reversed by Congress, it will hinder the free exchange of information and travel among doctors around the world.”

Darrel Kirch, president and chief executive of the Association of American Medical Colleges, has stated that international graduates play a significant role in the US healthcare system, making up approximately 25% of the workforce. The ability of the United States to attract top talent to its medical centers has helped make it a global leader in medical research. In a statement, he says “Because disease knows no geographic boundaries, it is essential to ensure that we continue to foster, rather than impede, scientific cooperation with physicians and researchers of all nationalities, as we strive to keep our country healthy.”

Lastly, the Cleveland Clinic has mentioned in a statement that the President’s executive order has caused “a great deal of uncertainty” among its staff. “We deeply care about all of our employees and are fully committed to the safe return of those who have been affected by this action,” they continued.

This statement was issued after one of their employees, Suha Abushamma, 26, was denied re-entry into the United States once the order was signed. Abushamma, a first year resident in internal medicine at the Cleveland Clinic, holds a visa allowing her to legally work and live in the United States. However, because her passport was issued in Sudan, she was informed by customs agents that she could either voluntarily withdraw her visa and leave the country or be subject to deportation, preventing her from returning to the United States for at least 5 years.

Abushamma’s request to delay her flight back to Saudi Arabia until a court ruled on a request for a stay of President Trump’s order was denied minutes before the court issued a ruling that would have allowed her to stay. Abushamma said in a statement “I’m only in this country to be a doctor, to work, and to help people – that’s it.”

Reference

McCarthy M. “Travel Ban Threatens Medical Research And Access To Care In The US, Medical Groups Warn”. BMJ. 2017. doi: 10.1136/bmj.j545. [Epub ahead of print]

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