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Supporting International Medical Graduates is Crucial for Mental Health Care in America

  • August 19, 2021
  • APA Leadership

The rise of the Delta variant and continuing effects of the original wave of the COVID-19 pandemic means that demand for all health care services remain high, while hospital systems and health care workers are stretched thin. This is especially true for services for mental health and substance use disorders, where equitable access to care has been a persistent issue for decades.

International Medical Graduates (IMGs) play a huge part as we work to address care gaps, weather the effects of the pandemic, and achieve greater health equity in the United States.

They are often the unsung heroes of psychiatry, many working to fill in shortages in underserved and rural areas, while meeting their waiver requirements before applying for permanent resident status.

Approximately 30% of active psychiatrists in the U.S. are IMGs. All of us in the House of Medicine, from large hospital systems to individual physicians, must do a better job of welcoming IMGs into our communities, recognizing the amazing work they do every day, and getting them the resources they need to succeed.

As an IMG myself, I know how difficult it is to travel to a new country and assimilate into a new culture, all the while doing a high-stress job of a resident physician. It was very much a “sink or swim” scenario in the 1980s, and unfortunately that is still largely the case today.

One issue I would like to see physicians improve upon is on cultural competency and sensitivity. At APA, we know that cultural competency is key for relating to our patients and getting them the best care possible. This is also true about fostering positive relationships with our international colleagues. A comment about an accent or joke about a cultural stereotype may seem like harmless banter to you, but it can be demeaning and isolating for an IMG struggling to integrate.

APA has made supporting IMGs and facilitating their integration into the U.S. health care system one of our top priorities. We are doing this through a combination of advocacy, education, partnerships, and leadership opportunities within APA tailored to IMGs. (Please see sidebar for some important resources that would be beneficial to all residents.)

IMGs provide crucial health care services that we cannot afford to be without, particularly as COVID-19 continues. Even after the pandemic subsides, there is no question that the expertise that IMGs provide will play a critical role in the future of the U.S. health care system, particularly where mental health care is concerned. We owe it to IMGs to not only make their transition a success, but to celebrate all they offer our patients, psychiatrists, other physicians and healthcare professionals, as well as the diversity they add to our country.

News Author

Saul Levin, M.D., M.P.A., FRCP-E,  FRCPsych

Saul Levin, M.D., M.P.A., FRCP-E, FRCPsych

Chief Executive Officer and Medical Director, American Psychiatric Association
Chair, Board of Directors, APA Foundation
Clinical Professor at The George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences

Medical leadership for mind, brain and body.

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