Governor considers waiver of USMLE for local docs


 As of last week Thursday the LBJ Medical Center management has been awaiting a letter from Gov. Togiola Tulafono about granting a 12-month waiver, which would allow non-U.S. Medical License Exam physicians to work at the hospital while these doctors work on taking the USMLE test.

Togiola revealed on his radio program two weekends ago that he was going to respond to LBJ’s request dealing with non-USMLE physicians, allowing them to work at the hospital for a certain time frame. He said he had held discussions with LBJ board chairman Moananu Va and LBJ chief executive officer Mike Gerstenberger to find a solution to address the doctor shortage at the hospital as well as the delay in getting physicians USMLE certified.

The governor had noted on one his radio programs in June this year that he is not clear why he was asked to approve the hospital proposal, when local laws are already in place and the governor alone cannot change the law.

However, the issue has come to head again, because Togiola said he was informed that several U.S. certified physicians are close to ending their contracts and some of them will be returning to their homes in the U.S. — prompting a dire need by the hospital to find a solution as soon as possible.

He made it clear that he continues to maintain his stand that the USMLE requirement is to be met by all physicians.

Togiola said a decision has been reached and will be sent to the hospital to waive the USMLE requirement for a 12-month period and during this period non-USMLE physicians are to work towards being U.S. certified.

Although this decision appears to be going backwards on his stand to maintain the USMLE requirement, the governor said he truly believes this is the right decision at this point because of the dire shortage of physicians at LBJ. He said it’s important the medical needs of the territory are met while other measures are in place to ensure that non-US certified doctors obtain certification as required by regulations.

Togiola reiterated the decision is a waiver for 12 months only and for physicians not certified to get the certification as required. He again emphasized his original stand that all local hospital physicians are to be U.S. certified.

There is good news for the territory though, on his radio program, the governor said that he informed LBJ during discussions, that after his own research and speaking to those at the Fiji School of Medicine, it was learned there is a part of the USMLE test that can be waived and is no longer required while the other parts of the test are still required.

Togiola said he is now looking at amending local statute to address this change in the USMLE requirement. He said the amendment would not compromise the public’s safety and health.

Responding to Samoa News inquiries about the 12-month waiver, Gerstenberger said Thursday, “We have had discussions with the Governor and he has promised a letter. But we haven’t seen it yet, so I can’t comment on its contents.”


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