When video journalist Natalia V. Osipova met the pediatrician Leonid Isakov at an Immigrant Heritage Week event honoring successful New York entrepreneurs, she asked his wife, Vera, when the whole family would be home together so that she could visit and film. That rarely happens, she was told.
“She said by the time Leonid is home, everybody is sleeping,” Osipova recalled. “Her husband, she explained, never refuses to help patients, even when they ask him to come in the middle of the night. She said she wishes he would give the same attention to his own children.”
Above is Osipova’s video profile, produced for Voices of NY.
While many American doctors live in McMansions in the suburbs, Leonid Isakov, A pediatrician with 16 years of experience in his home country, lives with his wife and two children in a $700-a-month apartment in Midwood, Brooklyn.
After he arrived from Uzbekistan in 2001, Isakov studied night after night to become certified as a doctor in the United States, then scrimped and saved to open his clinic in Sheepshead Bay with another doctor eight years later.
“I don’t have a house, I don’t have a car even,” said Isakov, 47. “Whatever I had, I invested to this place… I have approximately half a day to spend with my kids…per week.”
But for Isakov — as for many other immigrant entrepreneurs — this sacrifice is the key to his business success. Last year, immigrants nationwide were more than twice as likely to start businesses as were the native-born, according to The Kauffman Foundation research. In New York City, the 10 neighborhoods with the highest concentration of foreign-born residents had stronger economic growth than the rest of the city between 2000 and 2007, according to a New York State Comptroller’s report. The report found that immigrants have outpaced native-born New Yorkers in their contribution to the gross city product and the increase in wages.
When he arrived in the United States, Isakov worked first as a home attendant and then as a resident and doctor, eventually saving about $90,000 for the initial investment in the clinic, Ocean Medical P.C. Isakov also got a $35,000 loan from the Business Center for New Americans.
The clinic became profitable on the second year of operation, said Isakov, and now brings in around $300,000 a year in gross income. Isakov is one month away from paying back his business loan.
Still, life has not gotten much easier, Isakov said.
“I have two jobs,” he said. “One job is my office. And the second job is at Staten Island University Hospital. I don’t see the way how to avoid excessive working.”
During his night shift at Staten Island Hospital, Isakov sometimes imagines his children, Simona, 7, and Yevsey, 12, at home, asleep, he said. But then he shakes off the longing to be with his family.
“This is my duty,” he said. “I am a doctor. I wanted this job, I wanted this responsibility. I don’t know if they are proud of me. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t. This is my lifestyle.”