Iraqi Refugee Helps Bring Much-Needed Doctors to Rural Idaho

In 2015, Marwan Sweedan, a former U.S. Army medic and infection control specialist in Boise, Idaho was named a White House Champion of Change. After receiving the honor, he penned a short essay about his work helping fellow refugee and immigrant professionals find employment in the United States. “My efforts may inspire others to pass [their skills] on,” he wrote. “That is the butterfly effect I am seeking.” In addition to his job at the hospital, Sweedan works with Global Talent Idaho, which has helped hundreds of high-skilled immigrants and refugees start new careers in the state.

Sweedan says this dedication to strengthening both individuals and the community at large is central to the immigrant mindset. “We never stop trying,” he says about the immigrant doctors he has placed in underserved communities. This tenacity is also a defining characteristic of Sweedan’s own life.

Sweedan graduated from Baghdad Medical School in 2003, the year of the U.S. invasion. Between 2003 and 2007, he worked as a doctor at Ramadi Hospital and with the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation. He also aided his father, a project manager with coalition forces in Iraq. After paramilitary militias kidnapped and killed Sweedan’s father, he escaped to Jordan with his mother and three brothers. From there, the family came to the United States as refugees.

Immigrants bring a fresh perspective to their jobs and communities. We should value that.

Arriving in 2008, in the midst of the recession, was trying for Sweedan. He was unable to find work as a doctor, but eventually got a job in biotech. In 2011, he joined the U.S. Military and was stationed at Fort Carson in Colorado. He spent three years as a combat medic. Sweedan also gave a series of lectures on the Middle East and Muslim culture, which helped inform U.S. military protocols and strategy. After completing his service, Sweedan worked as an emergency medical technician in Boise and recently became an infection control specialist at Saint Alphonsus Regional Medical Center Hospital.

Sweedan credits the organization Upwardly Global, a non-profit that assists immigrants and refugees with job placement, for his professional success here. He, in turn, has been a dedicated volunteer with Global Talent Idaho. He launched GT-DOC, an effort to dispatch immigrant doctors to medically underserved neighborhoods. Idaho is a state with great need: In 2014 the state ranked 49th in the country in terms of the number of doctors available per capita. Changing such entrenched dynamics, Sweedan knows, will take time. “Perhaps we will not experience the change in our lifetime, but the generations to come may benefit,” Sweedan wrote in his White House essay.

Through Global Talent Idaho and his time in the armed forces, Sweedan has learned the importance of a diverse American workforce. He was struck, he says, by his experience in the Army, where people from wildly different backgrounds came together and worked for the greater good of the team. For this reason, Sweedan supports immigration reform that would bring more newcomers into U.S. job markets. “Immigrants bring a fresh perspective to their jobs and communities,” says Sweedan. “We should value that.”

About NAE

New American Economy is a bipartisan research and advocacy organization fighting for smart federal, state, and local immigration policies that help grow our economy and create jobs for all Americans. More…