Without Immigrants, U.S. Healthcare System Would be in Shambles

America’s health care system is at a precarious crossroads. With the 65-and-older demographic predicted to double to 98 million people by 2060, the rate of chronic illnesses such as diabetes and heart disease that overwhelmingly affect this age group are consequently expected to soar. Meanwhile, vast rural swaths of the nation are enduring shortages in basic healthcare sectors, leaving millions of underserved people vulnerable to preventable medical conditions. And with a population more diverse than at any other point in history, the need for doctors, nurses, and allied healthcare professionals who mirror the multifarious cultures that make up the United States is dire. But as many medical professionals abandon the demanding, 24/7 schedules of past generations and focus more on achieving a work / life balance, the stability of our national health care system potentially could be threatened at a time when we need it most. Fortunately, new data that was just released from the 2016 Census reveals that one demographic is predominantly sustaining our healthcare institutions: immigrants.

Per a research letter published last week in Journal of the American Medical Association, one out of every six medical professionals is foreign born. This ratio was determined using self-reported data from Census Bureau’s 2016 America Community Survey, which is designed to gather information about the national job market. Of more than 164,000 health care workers who responded to the survey, nearly 17 percent identified themselves as not being born in the United States. This is one of the highest foreign-born ratios of any professional industry, and since it’s likely that some respondents to the survey didn’t disclose their immigration or citizenship for fear of legal repercussions, some experts believe that the results underestimate how many people working in healthcare are immigrants. The data is even more illuminating when broken down into specific sectors. Nearly 30 percent of physicians originally hail from other countries, while 24 percent of dentists identify as immigrants. 20 percent of pharmacists were born elsewhere, as were 23 percent of home health, psychiatric, and nursing aides. In terms of country of origin, most immigrants in the health care sector are from Asia, followed closely by Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean. [See U.S. Relies Heavily on U.S. Foreign Born Workers by Lisa Rapaport, Reuters, 04.Dec.2018.]

Unfortunately, the anti-immigration policies instituted by the Trump Administration have threatened to target the very demographic that is keeping our healthcare system afloat. Since taking office nearly two years ago, Trump has taken numerous actions to make it more challenging to work pursuant to the H1B program. Many industry insiders recognize that these actions eventually will hit the immigrant expertise in the healthcare field just as the demand reaches a crisis point. Global applications to U.S. residency programs have already dropped within the last two years. If Trump’s anti-immigration attitudes are sustained through future administrations, the state of our health care system may be beyond repair earlier than we think. [See New Study Shows 1 in 6 Health Care Workers are Immigrants by Laura Santhanam, PBS News Hour, 05.Dec.2018.]


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