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Working: A Doctor from the Middle East - 2002-04-18

English Feature # 7-34347 Broadcast December 18, 2000

Nearly a quarter of the 800-thousand physicians certified to practice medicine in the United States are immigrants who received their medical education in other countries. Continuing our series on immigrants talking about their jobs, today on New American Voices you'll meet Samar Hussein, a young doctor educated in Kuwait and Egypt.

"I have always wanted to be a doctor, ever since childhood. I've always been attracted to the profession, and made it my goal throughout my school years. What shall I say -- I always liked to help out, and improve people or patients' care, so I think that's what attracted me."

Doctor Samar Hussein is the chief resident in the pediatrics program at Howard University in Washington, D.C. Doctors in the United States who have passed their medical examinations usually spend three years as residents in a teaching hospital or clinic. With guidance from supervising physicians, they apply their knowledge to real-life cases and hone their skills before starting independent practice.

"Basically, it's similar to what we have overseas. We see the patients in outside clinics and in the emergency room, in-ward patients and trauma patients. This is regarding the pediatrics field. The same applies to any other field of medicine."

As chief resident, Dr. Hussein is in charge of the other residents in the pediatric program. She solves problems, sets up lectures and conferences, fills in where necessary, and, last but not least, coordinates the work schedule. Residents works notoriously long hours, often 16- or 24-hour shifts, with biweekly stints of 48 hours or more on call. Of course, they get paid for their work - but, as Dr. Hussein points out, the resident's annual salary is not quite the princely sum that people tend to think all American doctors earn.

"On an average about 30 thousand, from 30 to 35 thousand. As you move up in the years, the pay increases. And of course we're covered for health benefits by the hospital."

To be certified as a physician in the United States, Dr. Hussein had to complete the same licensing exam as graduates of American medical schools. She says the real difference is that graduates of American schools get priority in residency applications.

"They have the upper hand for achieving the residency positions. So even it it's an American citizen and he graduated from a foreign medical school, it would still apply, I mean the priority would be for American-trained graduates, not for an American citizen."

Because of this, many graduates of foreign medical schools who immigrate to the United States hoping to certify as doctors here find themselves doing work quite different from what they intended. Often they hold down menial jobs while studying English and preparing for the certification exams, or waiting to be accepted by residency programs. Nevertheless, one in four residents in American hospitals is an international medical graduate. Dr. Hussein's colleagues in Howard University's pediatric residency program certainly come from a variety of backgrounds.

"From everywhere. Asia, India, China, from Russia, from France, all over, Africa - from many parts of Africa, Nigeria, Cameroon… So these are examples of the foreign graduates that you would meet in the residency program".

After completing her residency next year, Dr. Samar Hussein hopes to specialize in developmental pediatrics.

"I have an autistic child, and so my experience with autism has amplified the importance of child development, it's given me a new and dark look at this area in the medical field, and that's why I would like to pursue that in future."

Autism is a condition characterised by developmental delays and severe social withdrawal. Omar is five and a half years old now, and requires special care and therapy. Dr. Hussein and her husband, a journalist, also have a four-and-a-half year old daughter. Between her professional responsibilities and the needs of her family, Samar Hussein has very little time for herself.

"The small amount of free time which I had was just trying to follow up on my child's improvement, or doing something for the family. Or if I'm able to read something and study (laughs)- but that's basically it. I find that time during residency is limited, you have to use it very wisely."

Dr. Hussein admits that she would not be able to do what she does without help.

"I really think I wouldn't have been able to balance my domestic responsibilities and my residency responsibilities if I didn't have a supportive husband. I was lucky to have that. And I also had a supportive family, so my mother and my father-in-law took it in turns to visit and to help us out. So I guess you really need support sometimes, to help you through these training years."

Next week on this program you'll meet an Armenian shoemaker who lives on the outskirts of Washington, D.C., and whose life revolves around his family and his little shop.