Massachusetts Medical Society: DACA and Travel Bans Threaten Professional Diversity

DACA and Travel Bans Threaten Professional Diversity

By Danielle DiCenzo, MMS Public Health Intern

Proposed changes to the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program will undermine efforts to diversify medicine and address health outcome disparities, according to medical schools and professional organizations.

The DACA program, created in 2012, provides protected status to about 800,000 immigrants (known as “dreamers”) brought to the US as children prior to 2007. The AMA estimates that by maintaining DACA, 5,400 physicians could be introduced into the US health system in the coming decades. Both the AMA and the Association of American Medical Colleges have urged Congress to enact legislation to keep dreamers in the US; failing to do so will negatively impact quality of care and access to care, they said.

Terence Flotte, MD
Terence Flotte, MD

Medical schools in Massachusetts have decried the threat to current and potential students and the patients they may serve. “Not only do those students have the potential to go back and serve the [US] communities from which they come, but we know that students from the majority backgrounds learn more cultural competence when they are working alongside individuals who can relate to patients of the diverse groups,” says Terence Flotte, MD, dean of UMass Medical School.

“Revoking the immigration status of those students and trainees who one day hope to practice medicine or science — thereby improving our world — does a grave disservice to our community and to our nation,” said George Q. Daley, dean of Harvard Medical School, in a statement.

UMass, along with much of the academic medical community, has also been negatively affected by recent travel bans that have prevented research fellows from certain countries — including Iran, Syria, and Iraq — returning to research positions here, or have discouraged foreign talent from applying to US programs. “We need talent from all over the world and all walks of society,” says Dr. Flotte.

Despite support for dreamers from Republican and Democratic lawmakers, the legislative attempt to protect DACA has hinged on other issues, including government funding and border security. In January, Congress again declined to pass DACA protections into law. It is unclear when, or if, Congress will revisit this issue.

Ending or undermining DACA risks discouraging qualified students from pursuing medicine. “Like every institution of higher education in Massachusetts, we welcome all students from everywhere,” says Dr. Flotte, “but that’s not the message they are getting from the federal government.”

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