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July 8, 1999
New AAPI Chief Wants Second Generation Involved
For the new president of the largest Indian medical group in America taking the organization into the new millennium is tinged with a bit of fear -- and a lot of excitement.
For Dr Satya Ahuja, who recently took over as the President of American Association of Physicians of Indian Origin at its annual convention in Anaheim, California, knows that his organization has to attract waves of second and third generation doctors and medical students.
About 20 per cent of AAPI's 16,000 members now belong to the medical students and residents section. He knows AAPI's future lies with the new generation. He is afraid though that many younger doctors and medical students have not fully realized that they can become partners with the first generation of medical doctors in building a vibrant AAPI for the 21st century.
Dr Ahuja who has been with AAPI for over a decade and is almost considered a founding father of the organization replaced the first woman president of AAPI, Dr Kalpalatha Guntupalli.
A doctor of internal medicine and nephrology, Dr Ahuja, 53, is affiliated to the South Shore Hospital and Grant Hospital, both in Chicago. The awards and recognition he received include the Distinguished Physicians Award given by Grant Hospital, Chicago, in 1981, 1982 and 1983; the IMA (IL) Service Recognition Award in 1991 and 1993; and the South Shore Hospital Service Recognition Award during 1993-94 and the AAPI Service Recognition in 1995.
He said AAPI members need to be more politically active to accomplish their professional goals and to fight rules that work against international physicians.
Many top AAPI officials are on a first name basis with politicians in Washington and in the states. Some of America's most influential politicians, including President Bill Clinton, former speaker of the House of Representatives, Newt Gingrich and the House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt, have been at AAPI conventions as keynote speakers.
What Dr Ahuja would like to see is that Indian physicians at grassroot levels keep in touch with their elected officials and bring to their notice not only any discrimination they may have faced but also the achievement of Indian American medical doctors.
During AAPI deliberations, he has often regretted that AAPI's members have not sufficiently let their elected officials and the community at large know how many AAPI doctors work in inner city hospitals and rural pockets, which are not attractive to many doctors born and raised in America.
Dr Ahuja said that the recent convention held at the Hilton Hotel attracted 1,100 registered guests and 300 more. He said while he remains grateful "for the dedicated efforts of the past team and will use this as inspiration, as beacons for future endeavors, there are a lot of things to yet accomplish."
"Personally, I am honored with this responsibility and I would like to work on areas of common concerns for physicians of Indian origin,'' he said.
One of these is centralized credentialing, which will expedite the process of verification by hospitals and state licensing boards. This has been a worrying issue for AAPI for a long time. "We must achieve total parity in the licensing of international medical graduates and the american medical graduates in all 50 states," he said.
"This is an important goal because every time a physician changes jobs, he has to wait for several months before the verification is done by the local hospitals," he added.
Among the priorities the Lahore-born physician outlined, were adequate medical care for those who have no insurance and discriminatory rules that he said are applied to foreign medical graduates in the US. He also said he would like to work for the revival of the International Association of American Physicians, which is now defunct. It is an umbrella organization of physicians of other countries working in the USA.
Dr Ahuja pointed out that out of the 600,000 physicians in the country, 165,000 are from other countries and among them 34,000 are from India, He said it was necessary for them to interact and unite. He also has plans for more projects in India. "I would like to establish centers of excellence in India and provide cutting-edge technology. My goal for this year is to support three cancer centers with diagnostic and therapeutic equipment. I'll implement an exchange fellowship program in the field of radiation oncology," he said.
He also opposes changes in converting the H-1 visa of international medical graduates to J-1 visas, which makes them leave the country immediately after the visa duration is over. "The international medical graduates suffers a career break before they seek a job here, even though they have undergone their residency program here," Dr Ahuja said.
AAPI, he said, is also committed to increasing its role in the community. Local AAPI chapters have opened four free clinics in Chicago, Detroit and Texas. They are also conducting free health fairs and health seminars for members of the community.
AAPI also runs 13 free clinics in India. All these cost the organization $ 200,000 annually.
AAPI also launched scholarships and mentoring programs for students in high schools. It has worked to increase AIDS awareness in India and has participated in relief efforts following the Latur earthquake, the plague in Gujarat, the cyclone in Andhra Pradesh and for the victims of the Oklahoma bombing.
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