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State commission to examine licensing for medical professionals trained in other countries

Governor Charlie Baker signed a state budget bill this week that includes the creation of a commission that will examine licensing procedures for medical professionals trained outside of the US.
Governor Charlie Baker signed a state budget bill this week that includes the creation of a commission that will examine licensing procedures for medical professionals trained outside of the US.Elise Amendola/Associated Press/File

With an eye on improving and expanding health care services offered in rural and otherwise underserved areas, a new commission established in this year’s state budget will dive into issues surrounding the licensing process for medical professionals trained in other countries.

One of the more than 100 outside sections in the $43.3 billion state budget Governor Charlie Baker signed into law on Wednesday creates a 23-member commission of government and health care officials, giving them just under two years to report on “strategies to integrate foreign-trained medical professionals into rural and underserved areas in need of medical services.”

According to the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition, more than 20 percent of the over 8,000 doctors, nurses, pharmacists, mental health providers, and other medical professionals in the Bay State who were educated abroad are unemployed or underemployed because of difficulties getting licensed in the US.

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Meanwhile, MIRA said, more than 7 percent of Massachusetts residents lack adequate access to primary care, dental care, or mental health services despite the state’s robust health care ecosystem.

“We are fortunate to attract highly accomplished people from all over the world, and we should do everything we can to enable them to thrive here,” MIRA executive director Eva Millona said in a statement. “When we make the most of the talent in our communities, our entire Commonwealth benefits.”

Judith Thermidor, a doctor who trained in Mexico and France, has been in Massachusetts since 2016 and is not yet practicing medicine here.

“That’s my dream, and I’m working very hard on it,” she told the News Service in a phone interview.

Without receiving any orientation beforehand, the board certification process becomes a situation where “you’re just swimming by yourself,” Thermidor said.

She said she’s excited and more motivated knowing that government officials are considering the challenges that she and other foreign-trained doctors face. She called the commission an “important step” for foreign-trained doctors in the state, and for the immigrant communities they’d be able to help.

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“We can work together for a better quality of life in Massachusetts, including minorities and all the diverse populations,” she said. “We would be able to understand better the backgrounds and the cultures, so that we can make better health care decisions.”

The commission’s recommendations and any proposed legislation to carry them out are due to be filed with the Legislature by July 1, 2021.

The panel will be specifically tasked with making recommendations around state and national licensing regulations that may pose “unnecessary barriers to practice” for foreign professionals; changes to the state’s licensing requirements; and opportunities to advocate for corresponding changes at the national level.

The budget language is based on bills filed by state Senator Jason Lewis of Winchester and Representative Jack Lewis of Framingham.

Lewis said there is a shortage of health care workers both in Massachusetts and nationally that “must be addressed urgently.”

“Marrying this pool of unused talent with a population in need of better access to services would help us to better meet our health care needs and expand opportunity at the same time,” he said.