How Immigrant Medical Professionals Are Helping To Fight The Coronavirus

The battle against the coronavirus has been strained by shortages of ventilators, gloves and N95 masks, but hospitals are also scrambling to keep enough medical staff in place to deal with the surges of patients. Experts say immigrants are helping to fill this need and could play a bigger role if some of the obstacles they face are removed — from long and costly licensing processes to acceptance and even respect.

For the past three years, 33-year-old Jossania Dutra has been working as a nurse assistant at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston. She trained as a registered nurse in her native Brazil and came to the United States five years ago to reunite with her mother.

She said her ward was originally a vascular treatment unit, but several weeks ago it became a COVID-19 unit.

“My whole floor is an ICU,” she said.

The hospital is providing its staff with personal protective equipment, but like elsewhere in the country, there is a shortage, so Dutra is reusing the gear.

“I fear getting contaminated when handling the dirty gear after a shift,” she said. But Dutra is committed to nursing, adding, “I love my job, even though it’s a big risk right now.”

All her patients are intubated, but Dutra can’t allow negative thoughts into her head before heading to work.

“All I think of is to do my best for the day and the next day I repeat the thought,” she said.

Then there is the issue of “otherness.”

“If you’re an immigrant or have a different skin color or an accent, some feel they have a license to question or judge whether I can do a good job,” she said. “I’m making huge contributions right now, taking care of COVID-19 patients. We immigrants are the ones putting our lives in the frontlines. It shouldn’t be about race, it should be about the work we do.”

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