Part 2: Rural areas of Oregon experiencing doctor shortage

In part one of NBC5’s special report on a doctor shortage, it was explained how Jackson, Josephine and Klamath counties are known as federally-designated ‘Health Professional Shortage Areas’ – meaning there aren’t enough doctors.

In part two, NBC5 is looking at how these rural areas are compensating for the lack of medical professionals and whether President Trump’s order on travel may prevent more physicians from getting to these areas.

In response to the doctor shortage of American doctors in rural Oregon, the state often turns to physicians from outside the U.S. to help these under-served areas.

“Like everyone else, I came to the U.S. following a dream,” Mental Health Counselor Dori Best said.

Dori Best is a mental health counselor at Phoenix Elementary School’s La Clinica.

“I had such an empathy for people that ya know were struggling with emotions or family issues or mental health,” Best said.

Best is from Argentina and she’s working in Southern Oregon through an H-1B visa.

The H-1B visa allows U.S. employers to temporarily hire high-skilled foreigners to work in specialty occupations.

“my work visa will expire in October of 2019,” Best said.

According to the Oregon Medical Board, rural areas of Oregon depend on medical professionals from foreign countries on visas to fill the gap of a doctor shortage.

“International medical graduates are more likely to serve in these under-served areas… there are incentives,” Oregon Medical Board Chair Michael Mastrangelo said.

Incentives such as debt relief, or the chance to become a citizen if these foreign physicians spend two to four years in an under-served area like Southern Oregon.

But with the introduction of President Trump’s executive order on travel, Best says medical professionals that aren’t even included on the ban are skeptical of coming to the United States.

“Outside of the U.S. people are very concerned about what’s going on in the U.S. and what can happen,” Best said.

The Trump Administration’s revised travel order temporarily suspends entry to citizens with new visas from six countries including Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen.

Those in favor of the ban say it protects the country’s borders by giving the government a longer time to evaluate people from those countries and make sure they don’t pose a security threat to the United States.

But the chair of the Oregon Medical Board says the ban is scaring physicians from all over the world.

“What the travel ban is doing is creating ambiguity. So that physicians who would otherwise apply for an international program are thinking twice about applying for those programs, or physicians who might come over to serve in under-served areas here are concerned about coming over and then not being able to have family come over or not being able to go back and visit,” Mastrangelo said.

The Oregon Medical Board says 23 percent of licensed physicians in the United States are international medical graduates.

If that were to decrease, U.S. Senator Ron Wyden thinks it’d be detrimental to the rural communities of Oregon.

“Quality, affordable, rural healthcare is the foundation of rural life. If you don’t have it, you’re not going to be able to have a robust rural community both in terms of caring for people and by the way… those providers put a lot of dollars from the wages they get back into the community,” Senator Wyden said.

Best who loves Southern Oregon and would like to stay in the area as long as possible says bringing in foreign medical professionals is only a positive step in alleviating the doctor shortage.

“It’s important in general to bring people from abroad because we enrich in many, many levels what you already have that is beautiful and very rich,” Best said.

Senator Wyden says while it may be part of the answer, bringing in foreign physicians isn’t the only way to help the doctor shortage.

“Yes, we would ensure that qualified providers from other parts of the world could come, but we’d also do more to educate our talented, young people from Southern Oregon and elsewhere so that they could be providers,” Senator Wyden said.

Right now, President Trump’s executive order on travel is still held up in the courts with the U.S. Court of Appeals hearing arguments from both sides.

The U.S. Supreme Court could have the ultimate decision on the fate of the revised travel order.

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