EL PASO, Texas — Dr. Graciela Ruiz’s office phone rang and her receptionist picked it up as usual, but this was not the usual call. The receptionist handed Ruiz the phone and a man’s voice that will terrify her forever roared at her — “I know who you are and where you work, live, and who your family is. If you don’t want to die I am going to need your f—ing money, b—-.”
That was the beginning of her personal terror in Juarez, Mexico.
A few months later, Ruiz called her office to check in as she would every day before going to work and on the other end her receptionist’s fear resonated in her ear.
“The secretary was crying and she told me not to go to the hospital. The men were looking for me. My brother, who is also a doctor, was on the floor almost dying,” Ruiz said. Ruiz, a general medicine physician is now trying to flee the city plagued with violence.
According to a survey by the National Institute for Statistics and Geography, 76,000 Mexicans are looking for jobs in other countries or cross the border into the U.S. every year. Approximately 5,000 are doctors.
For doctors, legal immigration is not a major concern. The real problem for them is that their licenses to practice medicine in Mexico are worthless in the U.S., relegating them to jobs in nursing or as medical assistants.
“I have the papers and the language that every immigrant wants, but I need to go to school again because I graduated in Juarez,” said Dr. Luz Martinez, who fled Juarez. “It’s hard for me to go back. Right now I am a nurse practitioner, and it is not fair because I am a doctor.”
A few months ago, Ruiz went to school to prepare herself for the American Linguist Exam, an exam to qualify her as a nurse practitioner.
“I had to drop the classes. I had to spend 30 hours a week at the classes and I have a family and another job,” Ruiz said. “I don’t have time. I already spent seven years at school to become a doctor.”
Ruiz was offered a position as a nurse practitioner at Del Sol Medical Center. However, she declined it because to her it was like a slap in the face. She is not a nurse, she said. She is a doctor.
Now her only solution is a part time job in a hospital in Juarez, risking her life every day as she crosses the border.
For immigrant doctors looking for a job, getting immigration papers is easier than getting certified to practice as a doctor.
“The best thing for a doctor to start working is to have a sponsorship like a hospital, or a clinic to get a TN visa (Trade North America Free Trade Agreement). This helps them work in El Paso. Unfortunately, they will not work as doctors because they need to pass an exam,” said Lawyer Ana Luisa Pablos.
Getting certified is not in Ruiz’s future, she said. Her only hope is to change professions away from medicine.
“I am going to wait for my papers and also my brother’s and when that time comes I will have my own business,” Ruiz said.
However, the violent events at her hospital in Juarez are still on her mind every day. “Frustration, indignation, pain that’s what I feel,” Ruiz said. “I had barely gotten out of a major depression. My brother almost died because of those men who took away our money and our tranquility.”
Editor’s note: The names of the persons interviewed for this article were changed.