Coping with the stresses of immigration through art

The Office of International Services (OIS) and the Graduate Medical Education (GME) office team up every spring and summer to help manage the initial and continuing documentation for foreign medical graduates for UT Health San Antonio residency and fellowship programs.

According to the Educational Commission on Foreign Medical Graduates (ECFMG), “Physicians who receive their basic medical degree from a school outside the United States and Canada (international medical graduates or IMGs) make up roughly 25% of physicians in training and practice in the United States.

ECFMG sponsors these physicians while OIS acts as a liaison between the GME Office and ECFMG to ensure smooth transitions. 2020 was not a normal year. During COVID-19, immigration proved to be quite a challenge, but our physicians prevailed despite the obstacles.

“OIS helped bring in 11 new clinical residents and fellows from abroad and 18 transfers in 2020 in the midst of the global pandemic and another seven from abroad and 22 transfers this year,” said Julie Wilbers, the director of international services. As a result of the pandemic and the many immigration and travel restrictions that came with it, many physicians didn’t know if they could get to the United States or, if they were already here, if their immigration status would be delayed.

Dr. Divya Chandramohan is from Chennai, India, and transferred to UT Health San Antonio in July 2020. She completed three years of internal medicine residency training in Alabama, and then moved to San Antonio to complete her fellowship in infectious disease.

Arriving here in the middle of a pandemic was quite stressful. “COVID impacted medical education and all aspects of training for all health care professionals,” Dr. Chandramohan said. “We were frequently involved in the COVID scene seeing patients, corresponding with them about various trials at UT Health and seeing COVID complications.”

One activity that helped her cope with stress during the pandemic was her art. “Art is the best de-stresser for me,” she said. “I try to start every day with a little sketch although that isn’t always possible with the busy times. I’m glad I wasn’t hugely affected as many others have been during this crisis and I have a nice outlet to give me a break from work from time to time.”

“Geared Up" art piece

The artwork above, titled “Geared Up,” was the winner of the 2021 Reflections contest and one of the pieces that Dr. Divya Chandramohan  presented to the One Year with COVID-19: Research, Responses, and Reflections of Texas Medical Schools Symposium. She was inspired by a photograph of a nurse that was taken during the pandemic. “My version of a nurse in PPE, from Johannah Churchill’s photograph titled ‘Hold Still.’  which became popular during the COVID pandemic. Executed only with ballpoint pens on paper and honoring all health care professionals for their efforts” she said in her description.

“I drew inspiration from my grandmother and looking at Renaissance paintings from Johannes Vermeer and Rembrandt Harmenszoon. Back home in India, I used to do portraits of people who were stuck in poverty because they had expressive faces. I wanted to capture that when I was learning to draw” she added.

At any point, OIS helps sponsor 500 international students, researchers, clinical trainees, postdocs, faculty and staff from all over the world. In addition to showcasing the personal passions of our international visitors, OIS sponsors social events, informational webinars and other sessions to help our population grow comfortable with the many challenges of immigration and acculturation. Our population is vital to the success of the institution and helps make lives better.

For more information on the services OIS provides, please visit the main website. For specific questions please send an email to or call (210) 567-6241.

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