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Fixing America’s healthcare workforce shortage | Viewpoint

Opinion
Article

Thousands of skilled doctors and nurses are awaiting visas to come to the U.S. to deliver much-needed care. They would provide welcome relief to the overburdened healthcare workforce.

America’s healthcare system faces an urgent challenge: Our workforce is at the breaking point. We simply don’t have enough physicians, nurses, and healthcare technicians to meet the needs of patients.

Image provided by author

Maria Ghazal

And with our nation’s aging population and rising demand for healthcare services, the problem will only grow worse if we don’t start addressing it immediately.

COVID-19 imposed unique pressures on the health system and revealed a labor force that was overworked, burned out, and stretched desperately thin. But even as the pandemic subsides, the healthcare worker shortage continues to deepen.

Fortunately, a solution is readily available. Thousands of skilled doctors and nurses are eagerly awaiting visas to come to the U.S. to deliver much-needed care and support. These medical professionals would be especially welcome in rural areas and urban communities that are disproportionately underserved. And they would provide welcome relief to today’s overburdened healthcare workforce.

So, what’s holding back this welcome wave of highly skilled medical talent? Our government has created unfortunate obstacles. Credit the delay to bureaucratic limbo or call it a casualty of our broken immigration system. Whatever the source, it’s preventing America from meeting the healthcare needs of our people.

Congress has an opportunity to fix the problem by quickly passing the bipartisan Healthcare Workforce Resilience Act. The bill allocates the 40,000 visas already authorized by Congress, providing lawful immigration status to 15,000 foreign-born physicians and 25,000 foreign-born nurses over a three-year period.

This solution does not require an upheaval of the current immigration system or some grand bargain among competing priorities. After all, these visas have already been authorized; they’re just sitting there unused. Applicants would be required to pass national security and criminal history background checks, satisfy professional licensing requirements, and meet all legal standards for work-related visas.

Fears that these international medical professionals take jobs from U.S.-born workers don’t hold up to scrutiny. There are currently more than 11 million job openings in healthcare just begging for qualified candidates. America’s overstrained healthcare workers would be the first to welcome them with open arms.

The U.S. already depends heavily on high-skilled professionals from other nations to serve America’s healthcare needs. The Healthcare Workforce Resilience Act would deliver a powerful boost to communities and healthcare systems currently struggling with doctor and nurse shortages.

If Congress fails to act, the pressures on our healthcare workers – and on our nation’s ability to care for patients – will only grow more dire. By 2031, America will face a projected shortfall of 200,000 unfilled nursing positions and 120,000 positions for physicians.

As important as it is, the Healthcare Workforce Resilience Act will only provide temporary relief. More must be done to expand medical education opportunities, encourage young people to pursue careers in the sciences and improve the quality of life for healthcare professionals so that fewer are leaving the profession. The Healthcare Leadership Council has been working across the entire healthcare ecosystem to ensure a long-term supply of talent is available to meet the rising demand for their services.

In the meantime, hospitals, clinics, and underserved communities need help right now to meet patient needs. Thousands of foreign-born doctors and nurses are waiting for the opportunity. Congress has bipartisan legislation teed up to award visas that are currently sitting unused. All they need is the will to act.

Maria Ghazal is President and CEO of the Healthcare Leadership Council.


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