Sunday, June 27, 2010

A refugee radiologist: perspective for the apathetic, Part II

So, in Syria for a day, and needing to decide whether to leave to Libya by nightfall, Dr. Fajal and his family had a decision to make:  were they to make the relatively simple move to Libya, and start a new life there under another dictator, or were they to stow up in Syria, weigh their options and make the more difficult, costly travel to the United States.  Dr. Fajal's son did not want to leave Saddam's Iraq to be part of Qadaffi's dominion, and pushed the family to make the trip to the States.

Months later, the family was settled in New England, and though Dr. Fajal spoke English and was a practicing physician in Iraq, there are very few reciprocal agreements with respect to medical training and licensing in the United States, and in order to function as a radiologist in the US, he would be required to pass all USMLE tests, and attend another residency in an accredited US radiology residency program.  It is hard for people to conceive the difficulty - hubris aside - of going back and completing a 5 year residency after 20 years in practice.  Even if Dr. Fajal could find quick placement into an American residency, and this is not likely given the competitive nature of the field, and the protracted process for selection of residents, he would have to pay back loans for his travel to the US, and support his wife and children on a resident's salary; all while he was required to work 80 hours per week for 5 years before he could re-establish a practice in the States.  This in mind, he chose the pragmatic approach.  A local community college offered an ultrasonography certification after 6 months, and given his experience with ultrasound over 20 years of practice in Iraq, he pursued this option; the quickest and easiest route to a paycheck; the paycheck which would put food on the table, pay rent, and settle debts for the travel to the US.  Each of his children, at the appropriate age and schooling, worked themselves to support the family. His son worked with the electric company, and each of the daughters worked in retail shops, in addition to their studies.  Each payday, the children brought their checks to their parents to budget and disperse as necessary.  They became citizens in the US.

His son has completed his education, and is a practicing chemical engineer.  His daughters, however, are still in college, and the debt from their cumulative education exceeds what he could afford as an ultrasonographer.  To that end, Dr. Fajal traveled back to Iraq, now as a emissary from the US, to function as a discharge planner, in a contract position.  As I have alluded to earlier in these blogs, these contract positions in Iraq pay exceedingly high salaries, give the danger implicit in being here, so Dr. Fajal, though functioning, again, far below his aptitude and training, can garner the salary necessary to pay his childrens' tuition.  This all comes with a price:  he has been here since 2008, away from his wife, and children.

People like Dr. Fajal inspire us to be better, to try harder.  They conquer obstacles that most of us cannot imagine.  He humbly completes his duties with grace, and is a fantastic "over-asset" to have (imagine having Itzhak Perlman to provide violin lessons to your children) here.  Hearing his story reminds me of the fragility of my material life, and serves as a reminder of the value, and integrity, of work.  My children need to know about his life, and hopefully, they will remember his story. 

Supposedly, necessity is the mother of invention, and suffering the fuel of ambition.  Here's to faith that we can teach the lessons from another's hardship, and avoid the apathetic timbre resonating among so many of our own.

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