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Foreign Bodies: On the Politics of Professional Migration


· Eram Alam Harvard University (Cambridge, MA, United States of America)


07/26 | 17:30-17:50 UTC+2/CEST


This talk explores the enduring consequences of postcolonial physician migration from South Asia to the United States. Initially conceived during the Cold War as a short term solution to US doctor shortage, this migratory route has become vital to the functioning of the US healthcare system over the last fifty years. However, despite the invitation to provide care in the United States, Foreign Medical Graduates’ (FMGs) professional skill and expertise was repeatedly questioned by established medicine as well as broader publics. I begin in the clinical space and use this site to uncover how foreign physicians complicated normative constructions of physician expertise, credibility, and authority and developed different doctoring strategies to effectively provide care to patients. In spite of the challenges posed by virtue of their “foreignness”, these physicians acquired skills and knowledge, which eventually allowed them to leverage their medical training into various forms of economic and political capital. This was important during their “fight for equality” – a political campaign aimed at ending discrimination and demanding inclusivity from the US medical profession. Foreign physicians organized into an Alliance of FMGs and marshaled persuasive rhetorical arguments used during anti-colonial struggles and the Civil Rights era to argue for equal treatment. Within this Alliance, South Asian physicians emerged as the most vocal contingent eventually solidifying their position as a recognizable political “brand” – a “brand” with a unique presence in the American public imagination.