Trump's travel ban would take doctors away from the people who voted for him

Source: Shutterstock
Source: Shutterstock

President Donald Trump signed his revised travel ban on Monday, and among the numerous negative effects the order is expected to have on the United States, new research indicates that it will actually take doctors away from the very places that voted Trump into office — especially in America's rural communities.

The Immigrant Doctor Project, a research initiative launched in response to the order, used data representing more than 1 million physicians practicing in the U.S. to analyze the effect that Trump's ban on citizens from six Muslim-majority countries would have on healthcare. The results were striking: The project found that there are more than 7,000 doctors from the six targeted countries — Iran, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Libya and Yemen — practicing in the U.S., and those doctors see a whopping 14 million patients a year.

The doctors who are from the six targeted countries are spread out through rural areas across the U.S., according to the project, where they provide "vital services throughout the Rust Belt and Appalachia, especially in Ohio, Michigan, West Virginia, Indiana and Kentucky" — states that overwhelmingly helped to ensure Trump's victory.

Without these more than 7,000 doctors from targeted countries, "there would be very serious negative health consequences," Valentin Bolotnyy, one of the team economists who worked on the project, said — noting that many of these places still have doctor shortages even with the aid of immigrant doctors.

A hospital at the University of Kentucky in Lexington, Kentucky.
Source: 
Mark Cornelison/Getty Images

According to the project's website, "In many of the places where these doctors work, longtime residents have seen jobs leave and life get harder. Their hospitals are often faced with a shortage of medical residents and doctors, and rely on immigrants to fill critical vacancies."

But the visa programs that keep these doctors in rural areas will be suspended on March 16, when the new order takes effect, as NBC reported on Tuesday.

The numbers are actually a conservative estimate, according to the project's website, because the researchers counted only doctors who had come to the U.S. after attending medical school in any of the six targeted countries — and didn't even factorin doctors who are citizens of those countries but went to American medical schools. 

Bolotnyy said he and his fellow researchers knew "anecdotally" that many rural areas have doctor shortages and sponsor visas for foreign doctors in order to have enough doctors in the area to provide necessary medical care — but the data showed just how important those doctors are.

The research showed that doctors from the countries targeted by the ban were filling gaps and serving people in the "very states that were so crucial" to Trump's November victory.

A map showing the locations of the more-than 7,000 doctors from the six targeted countries working in the U.S.
Source: 
Immigrant Doctors Project

"The people who are most hurt by the executive order in terms of health are the Trump base from the Midwest," Peter Ganong, one of the researchers behind the project told the Huffington Post on Monday. "It's a particularly sad irony that people who voted for Trump will potentially end up getting worse medical care because of this."

The researchers were able to estimate that doctors from the six targeted countries provide around 2.3 million appointments a year in areas that have doctor shortages, Bolotnyy said, providing crucial care to patients in rural areas who might otherwise have to travel for hours to reach medical care. 

Focusing on doctors from the targeted countries was, in part, a way to counter the national security narrative put forth to justify Trump's ban, Bolotnyy said. "We saw doctors as the antithesis to terrorism ... they represent hope as opposed to fear."

Bolotnyy said the researchers wanted to create a way for people to use the project to tell their representatives that "they are aware of these negative consequences" of Trump's new order. "We thought it would be part of the Democratic process," Bolotnyy said.

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Anna Swartz

Anna is a staff writer for Mic covering breaking news. She can be reached at aswartz@mic.com.

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