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End the favoritism

Published Sep. 27, 2005

Cuban refugees who seek to become physicians should be required to meet roughly the same standards as all other individuals who want to practice medicine in this state.

For more than a decade, state lawmakers and regulators have bent over backward _ and performed other ridiculous political contortions _ to please a group of 400 mostly Cuban refugees who think they should be given special dispensation to practice medicine in Florida without meeting state licensing standards. The state has already waived internship and hospital-residency requirements, created a special training course and designed and repeatedly revised, at considerable public expense, a separate and less rigorous licensing exam, all for this one privileged group. Now, with the majority having failed that exam twice, the refugees are pushing for the right to skip the test altogether.

Who do these would-be doctors think they are? They have already received more consideration than any other similar group, whether trained here or abroad. Giving them a complete pass on the exam would undercut Florida's reputation in the national medical community and put the health and lives of Florida patients at risk. For once in this long and sordid saga, lawmakers should have the backbone to say, "No more."

Doing so will require state legislators to stand up to the arrogance of the refugee lobby and the parochial tendencies of their own Cuban-American colleagues, including Rep. Rudy Garcia, R-Hialeah. Garcia says the test, specially devised for this group several years ago, is discriminatory in content and scoring.

"This is an issue of fairness," he recently told the New York Times.

Garcia should be careful how he throws that word around. What's fair, Floridians might inquire, about the state's earlier move to develop an easier version of the mandatory competency test just to help certain applicants pass? What's fair about the prospect of doling out medical licenses to one group simply because of its political clout? It's no wonder that the Florida Medical Association opposes the favoritism shown these Cuban-born doctors, rightly viewing it as making special exceptions for political reasons. But Garcia should realize that many of the state's 12,000 foreign-trained physicians _ who made it through the exam with no special help from the state _ also resent the notion that the Cuban-born doctors somehow deserve preferential treatment.

Instead of continuing to offer tired arguments that the Cuban doctors are victims, Garcia and the Cuban-American Caucus should start thinking about the Floridians who could face true harm at the hands of untested, incompetent physicians. And instead of running to Tallahassee for more political favors, the Cuban doctors should buckle down and prepare to meet something approximating the same standards required of all other individuals who want the privilege of practicing medicine in this state.