Comment: Georgia needs more doctors, but I can't be one of them

After graduating from college, I worked as a medical interpreter in a clinic Atlanta'S Buford Hwy Corridor. I spent my days speaking Spanish with patients, almost all of whom came from low-income communities. Many had difficulty understanding their predominantly white doctors due to language barriers and cultural differences. Some patients even lived in fear of immigration authorities. I remember a family who feared that seeking treatment for their little girl's third-degree burns would result in a phone call ICE.

I was 22 at the time and already had a passion for medicine. After my time there, I felt confident that I wanted to dedicate my career to healing the most vulnerable Georgians. Only then did I realize that my own immigration status was getting in the way.

My mother took me from to Georgia Guatemala When I was 6 years old, I escaped an abusive relationship and sought better opportunities. Although I was undocumented, as a child I felt as American as my peers and initially hoped to serve in the Navy. I soon realized that my immigration status—something over which I had no control—precluded me from enrolling for or receiving the Marine scholarship that had been promised to me as a top cadet in my region.

At 18, I was thrilled to receive work authorization and protection through the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. At the same time, however, I was shocked to learn that Georgia's licensing requirements prohibited undocumented individuals, including those with DACA, from practicing medicine. I was forced to continue my medical career new York, one of about 15 other states that have passed laws allowing DACA recipients to obtain medical licenses. This is a huge disappointment for me and my fellow undocumented students who hope to study medicine and serve disadvantaged communities in Georgia. But it's also a tremendous loss for our state, which desperately needs as many doctors as we can get.

The lack of health care in Georgia is well documented. Nearly all counties in the state – 156 of 159 – lack sufficient health care workers to meet the health needs of the population. Specifically, a third of Georgians, or 3.3 million people, live in an area with a shortage of family doctors – my desired specialty.

Medicine is not the only area where Georgia sees undocumented people as a “problem.” I have long faced obstacles that stand in the way of my education and career dreams. I was in my high school's gifted program, but my freshman year I discovered this University System of Georgia The Board of Regents had banned undocumented students from entering the state's public universities. But almost all other states – 47 in total – allow undocumented students to attend public universities.

I was lucky to be accepted Mary Baldwin Universitya private university in Virginia, with a full academic scholarship. My lifelong desire to become a doctor was rooted in my upbringing, but my work as a medical interpreter made me more aware of the need for diverse healthcare professionals. My siblings and I never went to the doctor for fear of my mother being deported. I still remember the fear we felt every time there was an unexpected knock on our door. I knew that saying the wrong thing to the wrong person could cause our family to fall apart. Growing up this way has given me deep compassion for my patients and the hardships they face beyond their medical diagnoses. I know all too well how difficult it can be to simply show up for a doctor's appointment.

After college, I knew that getting into medical schools in Georgia would be an uphill battle since most of them require citizenship. Instead, I was thrilled when I was accepted into medical school SUNY Upstate In Syracuse, New York. Now in my second year, I still hope to become a family physician in a state that allows DACA recipients to practice.

For Georgia, excluding individuals who are both qualified and willing to make meaningful contributions to their communities is a missed opportunity.

Katherine Narvaez Mena

For Georgia, excluding individuals who are both qualified and willing to make meaningful contributions to their communities is a missed opportunity. With many states facing a shortage of healthcare professionals, I know my skills, education and training can be put to good use elsewhere. In the meantime, I continue to hope for change – that one day I can be a full citizen of this country and practice medicine in my home state, treating the Georgians who need me most. It's time we realize that Dreamers are not a political problem. We are a solution and our leaders should see us as such.

Katherine Narvaez Mena is a medical student at SUNY Upstate Medical University