Posted on Categories My Story, Words of Wisdom

30 Years with Exchange Visitor Physicians

An Interview with Fred Valente
Regional Advisor, ECFMG Exchange Visitor Sponsorship Program

Fred Valente celebrated his 30th year as an ECFMG employee this fall, working as a regional advisor for the Exchange Visitor Sponsorship Program (EVSP). The following is an interview conducted by Journeys in Medicine to chronicle his achievement.

 

30 years! How does it feel to reflect on this milestone moment in your career?

Return with me now to the thrilling days of yesteryear, 1989. The Berlin Wall was torn down. The Dalai Lama won the Nobel Peace Prize. The World Series was postponed for ten days as a result of an earthquake. An entire generation grew up since I started working here. Considering that this sort of longevity in one job is practically unheard of these days, I consider myself to be extremely lucky.  Through my three decades, I have worked with many wonderful and talented people. We have always worked hard… really hard. We also laughed together and, sometimes, we cried.

Tell us about your position at ECFMG.

I always like to say that EVSP is the last stop on the ECFMG tour. After the physicians have passed their USMLE exams and get their ECFMG Certificates and secure a residency or fellowship through ERAS, J-1 sponsorship applications are submitted to EVSP. The J-1 visa is strictly for exchange purposes and applicants are here for a limited number of years so they can complete all of their clinical training and eventually become certified by an American specialty board.

Regional advisors are responsible for all institutions, applications, and IMGs in specific states in the U.S. Currently, EVSP processes somewhere in the range of 11,000 applications for J-1 visa sponsorship. Although processing sponsorship applications is the biggest part of our jobs as regional advisors, we are also responsible for advising both IMG physicians and hospital administrators on visa regulations and ECFMG procedures.

Exchange Visitor Sponsorship Program, 1998

What attracted you to this work?

I’ve always followed world news and been interested in international affairs. In this job, one has the opportunity to interact with people from all over the world on a day-to-day basis. It personalizes what you see on the news, and I have enjoyed learning from and interacting with this unique and diverse group of people.

Additionally, I have always wanted my work to help people. As a regional advisor, I get to help applicants navigate their visa sponsorship and do everything within the guidelines of the regulations to help them accomplish their educational pathway and goals. I try to be proactive, and available, and a resource as much as possible.

What have you learned about the exchange visitor physicians that you serve?

I discovered that these physicians have worked hard to educate themselves in the medical profession, and many have undergone residency training in their home country as well as here in the United States. They are the cream of the crop in their respective countries. Many have been working towards the goal of training in competitive U.S. GME since they were a child.

In many cases, the only interaction I’ll have with an EV physician is through their online sponsorship application. While most of the provided data is routine and demographic, it still provides a glimpse into that physician’s journey to this point, the lives and the career that they have made for themselves. Hailing from all over the world, from many different socioeconomic backgrounds, with differing genders, age, ethnicity and educational pathways, each EV physician is unique. We also have the duty and privilege of sponsoring a physician’s J-2 dependents, which can include a husband, wife, or children. Learning a little bit about an EV physician’s family members further personalizes each applicant’s story. For some, the submission of this one application is the culmination of a lifetime of effort and dedication to medicine, an action that may change their life and the lives of their family forever.

My favorite part of reviewing an application is reading the response to our long-form questions. Here, I learn about the educational objectives that each physician has set forth for themselves. Their life’s work and goals in a few paragraphs! If a physician is in their second year of sponsorship or later, we also ask what cross-cultural activities they have experienced in the United States. Reading about a family enjoying Halloween activities with their child for the first time, or chuckling at the keen observation that every American event includes food, is what helps to add color to an otherwise black-and-white application.

What words of advice would you offer to a foreign national physician who is about to apply for J-1 visa sponsorship?

Take a deep breath. We have your back and we’re here to guide you through the application process if you need it. We know you have a lot on your plate, but try to read everything we post or send you about the program. It will help make the process as simple as it is intended to be.

Do you have any final thoughts on your tenure at ECFMG?

Clichéd though it might be, time really does pass in the blink of an eye, but I am grateful that I’ve had a job I love coming to every day for three decades. I’ve enjoyed the camaraderie amongst my colleagues inside and outside of the office. I think the poet William Butler Yeats put it best when he said: “Take a look where a man’s glory begins and ends, and I’ll say that my glory was I had such friends.”