Nearly five percent of North Dakota’s doctors are products of the nation’s H-1B visa program, the highest figure in the nation.

SAN FRANCISCO (Diya TV) — North Dakota’s medical professionals are currently harboring pressure from all angles — a growing shortage of available doctors, potential changes to the visa program that helps supply them and the prospect of how federal healthcare laws could change have them scrambling.

President Donald Trump’s review of the H-1B visa program has raised the anxiety levels of North Dakota’s medical professionals, where nearly five percent of the state’s doctors come from the program, the highest concentration of physicians in the nation.

Courtney Koebele, executive director of the North Dakota Medical Association, says the state’s rural nature can make it hard to attract doctors.

“The H-1 visa program helps us recruit people that normally wouldn’t consider North Dakota, and what we hope is that the people come here to work and they fall in love with North Dakota and they stay,” she told Public News Service. 

There are around 400 foreign-born doctors currently working in North Dakota. Even the vice president of Koebele’s association, Dr. Fadel Nammour, came to the United States from Lebanon through the visa program and now works as a gastroenterologist in Fargo. Koebele says people in rural parts of the state sometimes have to drive hundreds of miles to see a specialist.

Koebele said the medical community is also concerned about proposed changes to Medicare and Medicaid. Trump’s recent budget proposal suggested slashing Medicaid costs by $800 billion over the next decade, and the American Health Care Act could affect funding for Medicare.

Koebele says that could be bad news for North Dakotans looking for doctors.

“As we cut back on these low-income protections like Medicaid and Medicare, that really undercuts the whole system because if there’s a shortage of doctors for Medicaid and Medicare, then there’s a shortage of doctors for everybody,” she said.

According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, the country could be in need of an additional 95,000 doctors by 2025.