Extended family of Indian medics transforming US rural area

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Washington, Dec 7 (UNI) Three decades ago St Mary's County hospital was ruled by decades-old equipment, lack of full-time specialists-- not even an obstetrician even as more than 600 babies were born annually and a place where no doctor wanted to settle.

It took an Indian couple Vinod K and Ila Shah to open a practice in that rural area that proved life saving for the residents there.

The couple was soon joined by Vinod's younger brother, Umed K Shah, a gastroenterologist. Next came two family friends. A few years later, another brother arrived, cardiologist Anil K Shah with his neurologist wife, Beena Shah.

In time, more friends and family, including the rest of Mr Vinod's eight siblings, each of whom is a doctor or is married to one, joined.

They built the largest private specialty practice in Southern Maryland, Shah Associates, which has treated about 90,000 of St Mary's 110,000 residents.

For many years, foreign-born doctors have been the medical backbone of the rural US. In the 1970s, the United States actively recruited them, promoting the opportunities available in remote areas avoided by many US-born physicians. In 1990s, a visa waiver program promised to fast-track doctors to a ''green card'' if they worked in a rural area for at least three years.

Recent changes in visa policy, however, have had the unintended consequence of slowing the flow of foreign-born doctors to rural areas, a trend that Shah Associates is resisting, The Washington Post reported.

To Southern Maryland, the Shah family has imported distinctive aspects of Indian culture with colorful saris, lavish parties with huge trays of vegetarian Indian food and recitals featuring dances such as Garba and Dandiya.

Family members say it took years to earn the trust of the community, but once they did, the practice quickly grew. Some local doctors who once viewed the Shahs as competition eventually joined the practice.

''Every once in a while, we get someone calling in wanting to talk to Dr Shah,'' said nurse Betsy Warren, who has worked for Shah Associates for 16 years. ''You ask them, Which Dr Shah? And they say, The one with dark hair.'' UNI

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