August 8, 2011; Source: Associated Press via | Minnesota’s budget cuts have resulted in the demise of many programs and services across the state. One of the casualties is a $150,000 program at the University of Minnesota that helped foreign doctors get licensed in the United States.

Doctors who are educated abroad, regardless of their expertise and background, must undergo rigorous screening and training processes, pass licensing exams, and repeat their residency at a U.S. hospital. This can prove to be a formidable barrier for many medical professionals, some of whom give up medical careers to settle for whatever employment they can find.

This was Liban Farah’s story. A Somali doctor with 10 years’ experience, Farah ended up driving a cab to support his family until he and other Somali doctors convinced Minnesota state lawmakers to help them. Last year, the legislature granted the university the funds required to set up the program for foreign-trained doctors. Farah and two others were selected for the first and apparently last class.

Dr. Will Nicholson, a professor who taught the group, said Minnesota needs foreign doctors like Farah who are willing to treat underserved and immigrant communities. “Many of them could be qualified to do this job with just a little bit of extra training,” Nicholson told the Associated Press. Indeed, a 2010 study that included 6,100 doctors, including 1,500 international medical school graduates, found foreign-trained doctors to be just as good as those trained in the U.S.

Nicholson added that retraining foreign doctors is more cost-effective than sending new students through medical school. “By cutting our funding, they’ve saved a dime and lost a dollar,” he said. “I wouldn’t want to be a lawmaker, but my guess is if they had the time to listen to what we did and look at the math, they probably would have done something different.”

As the country continues to struggle through this economic quagmire, it might be worth looking closely at and harnessing the talents and skills of immigrants. More than 1.3 million college-educated immigrants are unemployed or underemployed. One in five highly skilled immigrants are working in unskilled jobs and another 22 percent are in semi-skilled jobs, earning a living as carpenters, electricians, massage therapists and so on. Why not give them the opportunity to use their training and expertise—which after all we did not pay for—for our benefit?Erwin de Leon