Mercy Doctors find permanent homes in small towns

Doctors born outside the US provide care in underserved areas in Arkansas, Missouri and Oklahoma

ST. LOUIS , November 23, 2022 /PRNewswire/ — Some doctors came to Mercy’s smaller communities with the intention of staying for just three years, long enough to meet a US residency requirement. But despite their short-term plans, many embraced the smaller rural communities they serve, and their communities embraced them in turn. [Hear what three foreign-born physicians have to say.]

Mercy (https://www.mercy.net/newsroom/mercy-quick-facts/), named one of the top five US health systems by IBM Watson Health for four consecutive years, serves millions annually.  Mercy is one of the nation's most integrated, multi-state healthcare systems, including more than 40 acute care, managed and specialty (cardiac, pediatric, orthopedic, and rehabilitation) hospitals, convenient urgent care locations, imaging centers, and pharmacies.  Mercy has 900 physician offices and outpatient clinics, more than 4,000 Mercy Clinic physicians and advanced practitioners, and more than 40,000 colleagues serving patients and families in Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma.  Mercy also has clinics, outpatient services and outreach ministries in Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas.  In addition, Mercy's IT division, Mercy Technology Services and Mercy Virtual serve providers and patients commercially from coast to coast.  (PRNewsphoto/Mercy)

“This has become a home. We were foreigners and now we are part of this community.”

“I was supposed to stay here for three years, and after that I could go anywhere, but I chose to stay,” says Dr. Michael Miranda, a native of the Philippines and a Mercy Clinic physician in Booneville, Arkansas. “The plan was always to find a place that was more like a home, but this has become a home. We were foreigners and now we are part of this community.”

Dr. Miranda is not alone. Many of Mercy’s doctors who were born outside the US start out in Ivy League schools or in major cities on both coasts. Often they agree to practice in a disadvantaged community for a short period of time as part of the requirement for obtaining US citizenship. While they can easily pack up and return to a big city, many fall in love with the people and places they serve and start a household in little America.

Dr. Areeb Bangash, medical director and hospitalist at Mercy Hospital Ada in Oklahoma, was born and raised in Karachi, Pakistan, which has a population of approximately 20 million. He came to the US for his internship and after completing his residency in New Jersey, he began looking for rural jobs all over the country. He interviewed in several states, but ultimately chose Ada.

“The people were wonderful and warm,” said Dr. Bangash. “There was a distinct difference in Oklahoma from all the other places I visited. Everyone here was so welcoming. Oklahoma was a breath of fresh air.”

Dr. Bangash said his first taste of America was “living in the big city on the East Coast, where things were hard and fast.

“I worked at large institutions where I was just a number or a name on a sign. But in Oklahoma people actually slow down, spend time with you and want to talk. It’s very community and family oriented in a lot of ways,” he said.

Dr. Syed Hamid, who also grew up in Karachi, Pakistan, now serves patients in some of the smallest towns in Arkansas – Booneville, population 3,647; Ozark, 3,618 and Paris, 3,532. Nearly 17 years ago, he transitioned from Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, where he completed his medical degree.

“I’ve never felt alienated here from day one,” says Dr. Hamid. “When my colleagues at Harvard found out I was moving to Arkansas to practice, they were shocked. But I’ve only met wonderful people here in Arkansas. This is my home. This is where I raised my family. I choose to practice medicine It’s the family-oriented atmosphere and community acceptance that made me decide to stay all those years ago.”

For communities hard hit by a continued physician shortage, the COVID pandemic and other health care issues, the relationship between doctors and patients in rural areas is particularly important. Dr. Miranda recognized this when he embraced life in Booneville more than 20 years ago.

“Of course we had no family here,” he said. “We were ‘adopted’ into a local family, and they were there for the birth of our two children. My children here are closer to our adopted ‘aunts and uncles’ than they are to blood relatives in the Philippines.”

Dr. Mirfat “Mimi” Bird, a Mercy internal medicine specialist, ended up in Ozark, Arkansas, after living in many different parts of the world. Born to a Middle Eastern father and a European mother, Dr. Bird pushing her to medical school.

Life in a small community has a deep meaning for Dr. Bird. She joined the Mercy team seven years ago and joked that Ozark “has about 5,000 people, and I know 4,000.” It is not uncommon for Dr. Bird bumps into her patients around town, including at the supermarket – a place where she sees less of Dr. Bird and more “Mama” Bird is.

“It’s your relationship with the patients,” she explained. “When you treat someone, you don’t just listen to their medical problem, but also their social problem. And before you know it, I see the mother, the father, the children. To me, it’s a whole family.”

Grace, one of the 25 largest US health systems and named the top major system in the US by NRC Health for its outstanding patient experience, serves millions annually with nationally recognized quality care and is one of the nation’s largest responsible healthcare organizations. Grace is a highly integrated multi-state healthcare system, inclusive more than 40 acute care, managed and specialty (cardiac, pediatric, orthopedic and rehabilitation) hospitals, convenient and urgent care locations, imaging centers and pharmacies. has mercy 900 medical practices and outpatient clinics, 4,000 Mercy Clinic physicians and advanced practitioners, and more than 40,000 colleagues who serve patients and families Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma. Mercy also has clinics, outpatient services and outreach ministries in Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas.

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