I’ve never met Dr. Suha Abushamma or Dr. Kamal Fadlalla.
But of all the frustrating stories circulating since President Trump issued an executive order barring immigrants from several predominantly Muslim countries, their travails hit closest to home.
Both Suha and Kamal are internal medicine resident physicians. From Cleveland Clinic and Brooklyn Interfaith Medical Center, respectively. Like me, they have endured the rigorous calling that is American medical training, including not only graduation from medical school, but also the completion of four board exams, a vigorous interview process, acceptance to a medical residency and ultimately working long hours caring for very sick patients.
In fact, they must have excelled – only the best foreign medical graduates gain entry to medicine residency in America.
Yet what was their reward for such hard work? After President Trump’s travel ban last month, Dr. Abushamma was physically deported to Sudan from John F. Kennedy airport in New York and her work visa was withdrawn. On the same day, Dr. Fadlalla was barred reentry to America after visiting family in Sudan, despite having an active specialty occupation visa.
After several courts challenged the executive order last weekend, both Dr. Abushamma and Dr. Fadlalla were able to return home during the interregnum while the ban is lifted.
The doctors’ exclusion from the United States was not only an atrocity from a moral perspective, but also from a practical and functional standpoint. When a resident physician is unable to work, there are broader ramifications outside of their immediate absence.
Who takes care of their clinic patients? Who fills in for them during in-patient rotations on the hospital wards? A rising physician’s personal medical education is not only disturbed, but the residency program may be stretched thin, forcing some physicians to work overtime and potentially violate hour restrictions.
What’s even more ironic is that since the federal government pays all medical residents’ salaries, President Trump’s administration actually continued to compensate both doctors during their “banishment” despite not permitting them to work.
Ultimately, the greatest harm falls on the most vulnerable – American patients. A medical resident’s absence creates a domino effect that harms the whole community.
Luckily, there are fail-safes such as coverage schemes and “sick-pull” lists built into residency programs in order to deal with a resident’s absence, which their hospitals surely utilized.
But despite the heavy publicity received by the two physicians’ cases, the Trump administration was silent and likely ignorant of the potential aftermath of a medical resident’s absence.
At the very least, while the legal details of the travel ban reversal and the justice department’s rebuttals are elucidated, the Trump administration ought to apologize to the doctors and their respective medicine programs for their unjust exclusion from the country. Ideally, the government would go one step further and retroactively pay for their travel expenses.
By its nature, medicine is an inclusive, ecumenical and optimistic calling, the central mission of which is a humane desire to help and heal. Physicians are also lifelong students. The Trump administration ought to bear in mind the sage-like writings of Sir William Osler, a father of modern medicine – “The true student is a citizen of the world, the allegiance of whose soul, at any rate, is too precious to be restricted to any one country.”
Geoffrey Rubin is a cardiology fellow in New York. His commentaries have appeared New England Journal of Medicine, Pulse, JAMA Cardiology and The New York Times.