Thursday, September 28, 2006

Doctors within our borders

Doctors within our borders
Advanced degrees don't guarantee equivalent jobs
Leah Caudle
Issue date: 9/28/06 Section: WKU HERALD NEWS

Media Credit: Greg Barnette
View the multimedia piece at:

At home in Andhra Pradesh, India, Syam Prasad Mallampalli sometimes worked 12-hour shifts as a doctor, suturing and treating wounds for 25 patients in the hospital he owned. At Western, the only thing Mallampalli can call his own is his computer with a picture of an Indian dancer on the desktop.

There are about 1,500 student workers on campus, said Cathy Stovall, a financial aid assistant at Western. Stovall said the office receives employment applications on a daily basis, most of which are received during early fall semester.

Working to pay for tuition is not an issue for some international students, but other students look for employment as soon as they arrive on campus, said Robin Borczon, director of international services.

These students come to the United States for international degrees, which are sometimes favorable in different countries.

"When I return home with my master's from an American school, I will be able to make more money," said graduate student Chinedu Ejike, who is a doctor from southeast Nigeria.

Borczon said she has observed international student workers take the decrease in pay with good spirits.

"Most of our students come very grounded, with a good sense of who they are," Borczon said. "If it takes working in Subway and getting an end to what they need, I haven't seen any of them get insulted."

Srinivasa Gokarakonda, who attends Western for his master's degree in public health, works as a night clerk at Bates-Runner Hall. Gokarakonda, a doctor in Hyderabad, India, came to campus on Aug. 7 and searched for jobs in the public health department.

There were none.

Gokarakonda said he knew before coming that he would not be able to practice as a doctor, but he thought there would be more opportunities, such as paid internships, for him to work somewhere in the medical field.

"I'm really frustrated. I thought of moving to some other university," Gokarakonda said. "The only reason why I stayed is because my wife is here."

First semester students typically don't get graduate assistantships because their work has not been observed yet, Borczon said.

Many students don't have a preference to where they work, just as long as they receive a constant paycheck to pay their bills.

Mallampalli, who spends his days organizing data and grading student papers, said he enjoys his job.

"It's nice to be on the other side, to be evaluating exams and not taking them," Mallampalli said while laughing.

For Ejike, the only way he's paying for his tuition and other expenses is from the two years of his savings and help from his parents.

But now that money is running low, Ejike is looking for a job that will help ease some of his financial stress, but will leave him enough time for eight to 10 hours of study every day.

"A lot of jobs they have here, they're not really field-oriented. They're usually manual labor," Ejike said. "I'm looking for a desk job, some place where I can not stand so much."

Wages at home, however, aren't much compared to Ejike's expenses in the United States. He said after spending 7 1/2 years in medical school, the going rate for a doctor is only about $550 each month in Africa.

"It's like they pay you peanuts," Ejike said. "Five hundred dollars is peanuts."

But the "peanuts" Ejike earned at home in Africa is more than Western campus workers receive. After working for minimum wage for 20 hours a week, the average salary employees received is about $400 a month before taxes.

For Gokarakonda, the wage only covers a portion of his average $600 in expenses each month in food, rent and utilities.

"It's for survival," Gokarakonda said. "But I will continue to look for jobs on campus, like in the food court."

Although "survival" keeps Mallampalli busy with PowerPoint presentations and logging files, he still has a little time to think about working in his field in the United States.

"I sometimes feel very sad that I'm not doing my work," Mallampalli said. "I feel like this is not what I'm supposed to do. I feel like I should get back to my clinical work."

Reach Leah Caudle at