02/17/2024, 17.40
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Nepali doctors discriminated in the United States

Hundreds of Nepali doctors saw their US medical licensing scores invalidated on suspicion of cheating. They slam examination administrators for linking national origin to possible cheating, saying it discriminates against them and unfairly casts doubt on their training. This also casts a shadow over 1,500 Nepali doctors already working in the United States.

Kathmandu (AsiaNews/Agencies) – About 800 Nepali doctors who took an exam that would allow them to join a medical programme (master's degree or specialisation) and practice in the United States have had their scores invalidated by the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE).

USMLE administrators said they invalidated some test scores after identifying “a pattern of anomalous exam performance associated with Nepal”.

Such a decision discredits Nepali medical practitioners in Nepal and in the United States. For one of them, Dr Puja, “Tagging Nepalis means that medical programmes are not going to consider your application because they don’t want to take the risk.”

The USMLE is a very demanding three-step exam, with each part entailing long hours of testing. A passing grade allows international medical school graduates to practise medicine in the United States. Tens of thousands apply each year.

The USMLE’s statement said the “anomalous exam performance” of the affected Nepali students could be “indicative of prior unauthorised access to secure exam content”.

But Puja and others involved say that the USMLE has not offered any concrete evidence to prove Nepali students may have cheated, and that all students with high scores, regardless of their nationality, should be investigated. Otherwise, this is just discrimination.

The only evidence to back possible fraud alleged by the US body comes from a medical news website that reported how exam questions were being sold on social media for 300 to 2,000 dollars. A quick search for such materials on Facebook leads to posts with a now-dysfunctional WhatsApp chat group.

According to Ramu Kharel, assistant professor of emergency medicine at Brown University, although the exam’s integrity is important and cheating should not be allowed, associating the problem with a particular nationality could lead to negative consequences, not just for exam takers but also for those already practising outside Nepal and the United States.

The US healthcare system employs many international medical graduates, with one in five active physicians born and trained abroad in 2021, including an estimated 1,500 Nepali physicians.

“It makes sense to investigate suspicious test scores … but naming Nepal only adds to the stigma against international medical graduates from Nepal,” said Bibhav Acharya, a psychiatrist and associate professor from University of California San Francisco.

The latest data from the Nepal Medical Council, which registers and licences doctors to practise in Nepal, showed that, in 2022, nearly 500 professionals had obtained the Good Standing Certificate - a document required to work and reside abroad - to practise in the United States, up from about 270 in 2021 and 2020.

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