Dr. Narendra R. Kumar, president, American Association of Physicians of Indian Origin (AAPI), speaks about the relevance of the organisation vis-a-vis Indian origin physicians in the U. S. and its contribution to the profession in India

These are times when the concept of immigration has undergone a catalytic change. In the past it was all about an immigrant starting on a single journey to a land of dreams and ending it there. Today, there is this shuttling back and forth. The ‘brain drain’ as we called it once has definitely slackened or undergone a shift. Immigrants, especially professionals, are now viewed as assets.

India is one nation that has very effectively used its diaspora. We even have a ministry to look into the welfare of the immigrant Indians. Lending an arm to this initiative are professional organisations, like the American Association of Physicians of Indian Origin (AAPI).

Providing a platform

“We represent the interests of over 65,000 doctors of Indian origin and around 15,000 Indian students and residents in the United States alone. Attitudes toward immigrants have always been complicated in the countries where they work and even sometimes in their own native land. This is despite the fact that all of them still retain their ties and emotional connections to their ‘original’ land. The AAPI has not only brought physicians of Indian origin on one platform, it has enabled them to retain their ties with their native land too,” says Dr. Narenda R. Kumar, the first Malayali president of AAPI in nearly 20 years, at the sidelines of the Global Health Summit held in the city recently.

Immigrant health professionals and students continue to face several barriers in the US right from obtaining a licence to completing residency training . “The AAPI has made effective interventions in many such issues. The laws regarding licences are still complicated. Like a physician, moving from one State to another, one needs to obtain specific licences. We have been able to ease out this process. The organisation has worked to standardise the Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates (ECFMG) curriculum on a par with the others. We now have three members in the State Medical Board and two in the ECFMG board, one of whom has been nominated vice-president. AAPI is certainly a growing power group,” informs Narendra Kumar, an otolaryngologist, practicing in Saginaw, Michigan.

How does the AAPI become relevant to India and its health care? “We organise constant exchange programmes as part of which our colleagues from here come to the US for advanced training, to observe how the medical system works here. The Indo-US Health Care Summit, in collaboration with the Indian Medical Association (IMA), which we have now turned into a global event bringing in Indian physicians from other parts of the globe. We have been making sporadic efforts to coordinate doctors in the US and elsewhere to offer their services, when the need arises, to organisations and hospitals in India. With the internet portal that we will be launching this effort will become more organised.”

Narendra Kumar also announced the opening of a free clinic helped by AAPI. “We conduct 15 such clinics across India, mostly in the North. A similar one will come up in Kochi soon in association with Amrita Institute of Medical Sciences and Association of Kerala Medical Graduates (AKMG). These clinics serve as a base for patients and also provide outreach programmes for disease prevention and education.”

Health care in India

Health care in India has developed by leaps and bounds. However, Narendra Kumar feels there is much more to be done urgently. “The primary care facilities in rural India need a complete overhaul. I think the 1.6 per cent of the GDP allocated to health care is abysmally low. The huge population is a deterrent but this allocation is one of the lowest in the world. This has to be increased. With development in technology these primary health centres can be linked to specialty clinics in other parts of the country and even abroad. This will help the doctors working there improve their job considerably. There is no problem with our training, it is on a par with any other, anywhere in the world. No wonder that the Indian brand of doctors are in great demand across the globe,” says Narendra Kumar, who graduated from Trivandrum Medical College and did his post-graduation residency at the Banaras Hindu University and Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, Ohio.

Narendra Kumar’s phone keeps ringing. There are delegates and guests waiting for him. “One more thing -the doctors in India need to be accountable. In the US we have what is called the malpractice insurance. It financially covers a doctor in the event of being sued for causing damage or injury to a patient out of negligence. No wonder health care is so expensive, no wonder the government sets apart one-third of its GDP for health care,” he says even as he moves to meet the crowd of delegates.

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