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Pakistani Doctor: A Muslim Woman ‘Can Make a Difference’

When Zartash Gul, Director of Myeloid Malignancies at University of Cincinnati Health, helps patients enter a potentially lifesaving drug trial, she tells herself: “I have come a long way. And the United States has allowed me to do this.”

Gul had plans to set up a hospital in her native Pakistan and work treating the poor. But when her father was murdered and her husband’s business collapsed, the mother of three was left searching for a way to support her family. She had already completed medical school and was studying a specialization in Pakistan, but she knew she would need to redo her training if she was ever to work in the United States.

Gul was able to secure a residency in internal medicine at Sinai-Grace Hospital, in Detroit, and arrived in the United States in 2005. But her husband, the owner of a cold-storage business, was unable to get a visa, so he and the children remained in Pakistan. After a few months, she took a trip back to Pakistan, where only then did she learn that her daughter had broken a leg; the family didn’t want to worry her. “It broke my heart, having to leave my daughter when she was sick and not knowing when I would see her again,” Gul says.

Even after the family joined Gul the following year, immigration policy prevented her husband from lawfully holding a job. This put an enormous strain on the family, and for six years Gul was forced to work seven days a week to make ends meet. Eventually, her employment at the University of Kentucky helped the whole family secure permanent residency status, or green cards, which permitted her husband to work. He is now employed as a network security specialist at the University of Kentucky.

But many other immigrant families aren’t so lucky. While a 2015 policy shift allowed immigrant spouses to work, that law could soon be reversed. Putting thousands of immigrant spouses out of work would undermine the ability of immigrant families to buy houses, cars, and other goods from U.S. businesses. It would also reduce the taxes immigrants pay. According to research by New American Economy (NAE), immigrants in Cincinnati hold more than $1.5 billion in spending power and pay over $189 million in state and local taxes. In Gul’s congressional district, in southwest Ohio, immigrants held $659.2 million in spending power in 2014 and paid $242 million in taxes.

As a hematologist and oncologist at the University of Cincinnati, Gul also provides a vital service to her community. With every state now experiencing a shortage of healthcare workers, it is foreign-born healthcare aides and physicians who are filling the gap. In 2015, 30.1 percent of diagnosing practitioners and 27.7 percent of physicians and surgeons in the United States were born in another country. With her husband working in Kentucky, where the family lives, Gul drives 1 1/2 hours to cover her shifts as a physician in Ohio.

I am a professional, educated woman, but I wear a hijab, because I choose to. I shouldn’t be a red flag because I wear a veil.

This year, Gul will finally be eligible to apply for U.S. citizenship. The length of time it took to become eligible is a source of frustration. “I’ve been here 12 years and am only now allowed to apply for citizenship,” she says. “Was that not enough time to see that I am safe?” Gul understands the need for security, but she believes immigration policies are biased.

“I am a professional, educated woman, but I wear a hijab, because I choose to. I shouldn’t be a red flag because I wear a veil,” she says. As a Muslim woman in the United States, Gul knows that “people get frightened of what they don’t know,” she says. It’s why so many people fear immigrants. Assuaging that fear is another important role of hers, she says: “I am a Muslim woman. I want to show that I can make a difference.”

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