A physician’s response to Islamophobia


I recently wrote an email to two Muslim colleagues apologizing for our nation’s political tenor. I shared with them my embarrassment over suggestions that our government bar Muslims from immigrating and monitor those who live here, my concern that a presidential candidate’s support congeals rather than erodes when he brays that “Islam hates us” and suggests that mosques be closed, and my dismay that so few in his party have stood firmly against his and others’ xenophobic rhetoric.

Part of my objection to this season’s malicious politics is visceral, a deep shame over the unveiling of nativist and racist veins and a gut-deep assertion that this is not how my country ought to be. It is also, however, rooted in professional obligation — in “taking up” for the 3 percent of American physicians who identify as Muslim.

Since beginning medical school nearly twenty years ago, many of my favorite teachers, my most exemplary learners, and my “go to” consultants have been Muslim. When I finished residency, two Muslim physicians bolstered my nascent practice with parental advice and patient referrals, and another colleague — one of the most humble and tender-hearted men I’ve known — helped me become a more professional, reflective and humane internist.

During my two years serving as associate director of a mid-sized Midwestern Internal Medicine residency program, several of my most eager, ambitious, and talented trainees were Muslim. Two of them had moved from Syria, and worked themselves raw during precious off-duty hours raising money to help family members at home. Others were more firmly settled, but spent overnight and weekend shifts caring for our largely impoverished “safety-net” patients, some of whom rebuffed their efforts and called them, “9/11 doctors.”

Well over 10 percent of our nation’s international medical graduates (IMGs) hail from predominantly Muslim countries. They help ensure that our country’s physician workforce is adequate to our medical needs. Further, as IMGs are more likely than U.S.-trained physicians to work with lower income and traditionally underserved patients, our Muslim colleagues are integral to our shared goal of safeguarding and improving the health of all our citizens, regardless of their financial means. They are owed our respect and strident support, not derision and vilification.

The American medical community would be vastly diminished without Muslim physicians. They are our colleagues, our teachers, our students, and caregivers to many of our neediest citizens. Perhaps it is time for our professional organizations, with divisions devoted to advocacy and bullhorns at the ready, to remind a seemingly split public of this fact.

Mike Stillman is an internal medicine and rehabilitation medicine physician.

Image credit: Shutterstock.com


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