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Starting a new life: alternative credential verification methods for refugees

Kara Oleyn, JD, Vice President for Programs & Services, Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates (ECFMG), USA.

The United Nations High Commission for Refugees estimates that 82 million people today have been forcibly displaced across the globe. For many refugees, a critical element to resettlement is having their professional credentials verified.

Certification by the Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates (ECFMG®) is required for international medical graduates (IMGs) to enter US postgraduate training and pursue medical licensure. The certification process includes primary-source verification (PSV) of medical education credentials, among other requirements. ECFMG also works with regulators around the world to conduct PSV for their IMG candidates.

For refugee physicians, ECFMG has developed alternative methods for verifying credentials when PSV is not possible. These instances generally fall into two categories: 1) a medical school cannot verify the credentials of any of its graduates as it is closed (e.g., due to war or natural disaster); or 2) the medical school will not verify the credentials of one of its graduates, because the individual is a political dissident and/or has asylum in another country.

If a medical school is closed and cannot provide verification for any of its graduates, ECFMG may accept attestations from three US-licensed physicians who have direct knowledge of the individual’s medical school graduation — usually classmates or faculty. They will be required to swear on their medical license that the individual is a medical school graduate.

In the second instance, ECFMG will determine if attestations are possible as described above, but will also collect any other documentation of the physician’s medical school graduation and unique political status, e.g., asylee documentation, newspaper articles, UN refugee status, Commission on Human Rights paperwork, etc. This information is reviewed collectively to determine if it is sufficient to approve the exception.

ECFMG developed these processes to allow refugee physicians to continue on their career paths while maintaining the integrity of ECFMG Certification, thereby assuring the public that qualified individuals are moving forward for licensure.