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They were doctors. Then they moved to America. This Idaho clinic helps them practice in the U.S.

Sampson Nde practiced as a doctor in Nigeria. And now, years into his studies in the U.S., he’s on track to apply for medical residencies to become a doctor in America next year.
Kyle Pfannenstiel/Idaho Capital Sun
Sampson Nde practiced as a doctor in Nigeria. And now, years into his studies in the U.S., he’s on track to apply for medical residencies to become a doctor in America next year.

Nampa clinic trains international doctors as medical assistants as they seek American medical licenses

On the cusp of opening up his own medical clinic in Nigeria, Sampson Nde headed for the United States.

He’d bought into the American dream. In America, he promised his parents he would also become a doctor. But he’d do it the hard way — opting to study his own way to becoming a licensed American doctor, rather than going to medical school.

This year, he got a head start by joining a clinic in Nampa founded with a unique business model: Hire and train doctors from other countries to provide culturally sensitive care to patients and, in turn, expand the number of doctors available in Idaho, where much of the state isand has been — in a physician shortage.

The Idaho Health Neighborhood Center in Nampa, founded this spring, is new and focused on serving rural and underserved populations. Founded in a county where 19% of people speak a language other than English at home, the clinic employs three doctors from foreign countries as medical assistants to licensed medical providers. And the clinic offers everything from primary health care to behavioral health care to the 300 patients it serves — all within a minute’s wait.

For international medical graduates like Nde, joining the clinic is a “no brainer,” he said.

The clinic lets foreign doctors study on the clock, gives them hands-on experience with patients and helps them network with other doctors and residency programs. Meanwhile, the clinic gets to tap into the unique expertise of doctors from foreign countries.

“We can utilize what they’ve already been trained to do, and get them to a place where they can be fully licensed physicians in the state of Idaho, practicing with underserved populations or rural populations,” said Dr. Leo Carney, chief medical officer for Cornerstone Whole Healthcare Organization, Inc., which runs the clinic.

Clinic seeks to grow Idaho physician workforce, provide culturally sensitive care

Jennifer Yturriondobeitia had wanted to start the clinic for a while.

She worked with a cardiologist originally from Iraq, who told her how difficult it was to become a doctor in the U.S.

“Your degree is about as good as a GED,” Yturriondobeitia said in a recent interview. “They just can’t go in and start practicing.”

Last year, the window of opportunity opened when she found a location in Nampa already outfitted as a medical clinic.

While the international medical graduates study for their U.S. medical license, they work in the Nampa clinic as medical assistants, or “physician extenders.” They help with taking patient vitals, providing shots, drawing blood or other tasks that medical professionals at the clinic need help with.

Fluent in Spanish, Ukrainian, Swahili and French, the international doctors also help build trust with patients who are refugees or speak languages other than English, Yturriondobeitia said.

And the international medical graduates experience practicing medicine in other countries gives them a unique perspective on care.

Trained to assess patients without always accessing pricey tests, Nde said international medical graduates can often find cheaper avenues.

“If you listen to patients very well, sometimes they’ll tell you what’s wrong with them,” Nde said.

The clinic providing both physical and mental health care out of one location is a unique model, but it isn’t new. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, for instance, offers integrative care.

Having behavioral health care under one roof can help reduce the stigma involved with seeking mental health help, Yturriondobeitia said. Many people who see mental health professionals in integrative care only need to come to an appointment or a few, she said.

Part of Yturriondobeitia’s drive to start the clinic came out of frustration with how mental health care is typically administered. After reaching out for help, patients might wait weeks for an appointment with a mental health professional.

“When you think about someone who says ‘I need mental health services now,’ you need to hit them now with services and interventions, not three weeks later,” Yturriondobeitia said.

Continuing to offer no wait times for medical services is a balance between scaling up volume for patients and avoiding medical providers getting burnt out, Yturriondobeitia says.

“I can’t guarantee” no wait times, Yturriondobeitia said. “I can guarantee we’ll be mindful about making sure we stay focused on having walk-in capabilities, the same day access and the quality of care is at a standard that we are taking care of patients, they’re not falling through the cracks and again a balance of do we need to add another provider because we’re so full.”

A long road to becoming a doctor in the U.S.

Nde has been on a long road to becoming licensed to practice as a doctor.

His journey has taken him from sleeping in a church in Utah, where he once studied, fasted frequently and kept few belongings as he stayed with churchgoers. His studies have advanced faster at the clinic, where he said he’s been paid more for his work than other medical facilities he’s worked at and where studying for exams is treated as part of the job.

“I don’t think without my faith, I would have made it,” Nde said.

The process to become licensed to practice medicine in the U.S. as an international medical graduate doesn’t allow you to be weak, Nde said.

After passing medical exams, international medical graduates compete against U.S. medical school graduates in competitive slots for residencies, which offer training in a specific medical field.

Nde is less than one year away from applying to residencies. He is still figuring out what kind of doctor he’d like to be.

Friends in virtual study groups tell him they’d like to move to Idaho after hearing about the clinic, he said. He’s the first among them to finish his exams.

Some international doctors who move to the U.S. enter new fields of work, instead of trying to continue being a doctor, Nde said. But foreign doctors who train to become licensed American doctors are grateful, he said. And patients can feel it, he said.

“To us, it’s a privilege to practice medicine in the U.S.,” Nde said.

Idaho Capital Sun is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Idaho Capital Sun maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Christina Lords for questions: Follow Idaho Capital Sun on Facebook and Twitter.