Fixing immigration policy can make a dent in physician shortage

Generic medical

The United States is projected to face a physician shortage--to the tune of 46,100 to 90,400 physicians--by 2025. Foreign-born physicians can help fill these gaps, according to a recent commentary by Nicole Fisher, a healthcare and human rights advisor, in Forbes.

From visa limitations to relocation to lower pay and xenophobia, the barriers that stand between foreign-born doctors practicing in the United States are many. But with the expected surge in baby boomers seeking care and the reality that up to one-third of physicians will retire in the coming years, a functioning immigration system that makes it possible for foreign-born doctors to practice on our shores is a must, writes Fisher.

“Whether it is due to cultural need, community demand or economic impact, allowing more foreign-born individuals to work in the health labor sector is going to become more and more important,” she writes. “With the pending presidential election just around the corner, it’s time that a real discussion about immigration reform and healthcare practices take place. Our system cannot survive without it.”

Physician shortages will be particularly dramatic in rural areas where attracting younger healthcare providers is a challenge. Because primary care doctors garner lower salaries, more U.S. natives are seeking to specialize. And that means more foreign-born doctors are pursuing careers in primary care, according to the commentary.

Foreign-born physicians can also be tapped for their language and cultural abilities, writes Fisher. She notes that, while approximately 40 million people in the United States spoke Spanish in 2011, fewer than 4 percent of providers can speak the language.

- read the commentary