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‘Look Beyond the Surface,’ Says Columbian-American Surgeon

When the patients of Colombian native Dr. Julio Clavijo-Alvarez have a question about their treatment, they don’t have to worry about getting past a wall of staffers. They have his personal cell phone number, so they can just call or text. As his overwhelmingly positive online reviews attest, his patients appreciate the extra level of care.

“In my field there are a lot of barriers between patients and physicians,” says Clavijo-Alvarez, a plastic surgeon who immigrated to the United States in 2000. “I try to go back to the principles of family-based medicine. The doctor used to go to your house, take care of all the kids, parents, grandparents. I don’t do that, but I give them access.”

The heathcare sector is adding jobs faster than any other segment of the U.S. economy. This means that America’s foreign-born doctors — almost 28 percent of the nation’s physicians — are essential, particularly as the U.S. population ages. With the number of U.S. elders rising, immigrant workers are becoming an increasingly critical component of the entire healthcare industry. In Clavijo-Alvarez’s Congressional district, for example, in southwest Pennsylvania, 65 percent of the immigrant population is of working age, or between the ages of 25 and 64, compared to just 53 percent of the native-born population.

With all the research and data that’s available, there is no reason to judge people just on the country they’re from.

Clavijo-Alvarez opened a solo practice in Wexford, Pennsylvania, in 2015, after completing an entrepreneurship program at Duquesne University’s Small Business Development Center. His practice has four U.S.-born employees and an impressive rate of growth: After a profitable first year, the practice doubled its income in the second year.

At Duquesne, Clavijo-Alvarez realized he could distinguish his practice by offering highly personalized service. “It’s an extension of what my mom taught me,” he says. “First, be yourself. You are not a doctor. You are just a human being.”

It’s a philosophy that also informs his view on immigration. Like many Colombian natives, Clavijo-Alvarez  has had to confront the stigma of the country’s association with the drug trade. He would like to see immigration reform that looks at the whole individual, rather than a person’s country of origin.

“With all the research and data that’s available, there is no reason to judge people just on the country that they’re from,” he says. “We can interview them and find out who they really are. The information is there. It’s 2017.”

Despite the occasional bias he’s encountered, Clavijo-Alvarez is grateful that most Americans judge him based on what he has to offer: A medical degree from Colombia, a PhD from Spain, and a passion for helping people feel better.

“I would never have been able to do what I have done here anywhere else in the world,” he says. “This is the land of opportunity. The foundation of this country is to be able to excel and do what you love to do.”

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