August 28, 2020 1:21PM

Is Advocating Health Care Licensing Reform About to go Mainstream?

This Tuesday, “Transplant,” a Canadian television hit series, is scheduled to make its American debut on NBC. It’s the story of a Bashir Hamed, a Syrian doctor who emigrated to Toronto and is working at a diner because foreign‐​trained physicians have difficulty obtaining medical licenses. He springs into action to rescue customers injured in a suspected terrorist attack, making it obvious to viewers that his fellow Toronto residents had been deprived of his skills and knowledge.

The story immediately brings to mind my own personal experience as a general surgeon, working with Jamil, an outstanding OR technician, who would not only pass me instruments but sometimes offer very helpful and insightful suggestions during challenging and difficult operations. One day I asked him how he knew so much about surgery, only to learn that, like the fictional character in “Transplant,” he was a practicing general surgeon in Syria but, with a family to support, he could not afford to go through the onerous process of repeating his entire postgraduate residency training in order to get a license to practice in Arizona. So, he worked as an OR tech part of the time while growing his small Mediterranean diner the rest of the time. This illustrates how restrictive licensing laws waste valuable talent. It also illustrates how so many who emigrate to the U.S. from other countries are ambitious and industrious.

I mentioned Jamil in an op‐​ed in the Detroit News that explained how other developed countries, including Canada, Australia, and many in the European Union, make it easier for foreign health care practitioners to provide health care to their residents. I argued that “states should remove regulatory barriers obstructing eager and able doctors from other states and countries who want to help their patients.”

Earlier this month I moderated an online policy forum on the subject that featured Paul J. Larkin of the Heritage Foundation, Cato’s Alex Nowrasteh, and Maqbool Halepota, MD, a Scottsdale oncologist from Pakistan. It was accompanied by a brief video documentary on the same subject produced by Cato’s media staff.

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to provide lessons for policymakers on how regulatory obstacles impede a rapid and nimble response to public health challenges. Health care licensing laws in general—and how they block patients from foreign practitioners who are eager and able to help them—are getting a long‐​overdue reevaluation. Hopefully the advent of the new NBC television series is a sign that public awareness of the licensing problem is becoming more widespread.