He had been waiting a full year for the J-1 visa waiver, which allows IMGs to remain in the U.S. in exchange for five years of service in an MUSA. But, he also liked teaching and was attracted to the opportunity to pass on a legacy to the junior residents and incoming interns. He elected to proceed with the waiver because it offered the opportunity to “stay here in the States and to be able to practice medicine for good.”
Born in the Philippines, Dr. Fajardo says his family was wary about his locating to a remote area in Mississippi—but he wasn’t. “When I make a decision, I go for it 100%,” he says. “In everything I do I always do my best and leave the rest to God. I was very fortunate to find out that the community was very involved in and engaged with my waiver.
“Also, to my surprise, I didn’t feel discriminated against at all. They made me feel like I’m a part of the family. There is a strong sense of community here, indeed. The only problem then was, of course, being in a small town, that whatever you do, everybody knows about it.”
Although Dr. Onunkwo moved to Wausau, Wis., a small town in a predominantly white area, he says it was not difficult for him to adjust to life there. Part of the reason, he says, is that his first overseas experience was in Ireland, where he obtained a diploma in tropical medical at the Royal College of Surgeons in Dublin and practiced in a small village nearby. In addition, he and his wife were together in Wausau. “It was probably easier for both of us because we had each other,” he says.
And then there were their great neighbors, says Dr. Onunkwo. ”They made the transition seamless,” he says. “We have formed lifelong relationships with some of our neighbors in Wausau.” The strength of those relationships became apparent on Christmas Day 2005. “They really don’t know what they have done for us,” Dr. Onunkwo recalls warmly. “When we were going through our travails, they knew something was wrong, but we didn’t tell them exactly what we were going through. They made our day for us, because they just rang our bell and here they had the three-course Christmas dinner for us.”