Foreign-Trained: underneath my blue-collar job

Underneath my blue-collar

Feature on a bus driver with M.D. credentials. 

He wakes up six days a week at five in the morning. It’s going to be a hot day, so he grabs his favorite baseball cap and packs his lunch in a little worn out blue lunch bag. The fifteen-minute drive from the San Fernando Valley to West Hollywood turns to the usual-hour-plus-long drive, so he savors his coffee for as long as he can. Right on time, he punches in, grabs his toolbox and takes a deep breath. It’s just another day in the life of Ricardo Murga as a mechanic and driver for an advertising tour bus company. 

There are more than 1.6 million college-educated migrants in the U.S. who are either underemployed or unemployed. Murga falls under that statistic. Many do not know that he was once a medical school graduate who earned his title as Gynecologist, Dr. Murga. 

“I remember the nurses yelling my name in the emergency room and sleeping for a couple hours before a new patient came in,” he shares. “But babies’ cries after I had delivered them was the most rewarding. To see a mother hold her newborn…nothing compares.” 

In 1986, he opened his own clinic and began his practice after several years of studying, interning, and owning up to the role of ‘father’ after his parents’ divorce as a child. The political party in power at the time in his native land, Guatemala, demanded that every business in the medical field support the party. Though he strained from politics, he did his best to abide for the sake of his clinic’s standing. After a rapid six months, he had no choice but to shut it down after numerous unjustified fees and no government support. He decided to search for better opportunities in the United States after a stagnant period of no work, and rising gang activity in his community. 

“I didn’t know English. Esa fue mi primera barrera,” he says. With only a pocket-sized Spanish-English dictionary, the newly arrived Central-American doctor found a myriad of barriers coming his way. Language and lack of monetary funds were among his most challenging obstacles, but he soon found that his Guatemalan credentials could not transfer over. 

Like him, foreign-trained professionals, or highly-skilled immigrants, migrate to the United States to practice their professions. Among them are doctors, lawyers, and engineers. Many leave conflict-torn countries, including refugee physicians who often flee the extreme violence. Once in the U.S., they find it difficult to provide academic documentation and employers require them to return to entry-level jobs to prove their expertise. 

“I didn’t know where to go, and most people didn’t know where to direct me, either,” Murga says. But there is no set system. The steps to re-license differ per state, profession, and personal situation. Physicians must begin with a medical school transcript and diploma verification process, followed by the completion of apprenticeships and volunteer hours, often unpaid. They are then required by law to take a series amount of standardized exams and prove legal citizenship. 

He began by taking English courses and earning his GED at a community college.

“It was literally starting all over. My credentials were invisible here and my accent wasn’t helping me at all. I looked in the mirror and felt like my white coat didn’t look the same on me anymore,” Murga says. 

After years of attempting to re-license, he found it difficult to manage a growing family and no steady income. He traded his white coat to a blue-collared uniform. He tried on construction vests, mover’s gloves, metal-toed boots, anything to keep a roof over his family. When his children started school, he decided to shift his focus completely and invest in their schooling instead. Now in the driving business, Murga has met a lot of people with a similar story. He has met many construction workers, handymen, and other drivers that share their stories with him about their professions underneath their current uniforms. They were once lawyers, engineers, and veteneriants who found it difficult to practice. Many agree it’s difficult primarily because of one important factor – no single structure oversees professional certification. Those with no money, visa, and language skills are the first to get lost in the lengthy and costly process of re-certification. 

“My kids’ schooling is more important to me now. I’ll keep digging my hands in the dirt for them if it means putting food on the table and paying for college,” Murga says. “But I do think this country needs to talk about this more and offer resources for those struggling the most.”