Of Doctors and Immigration: The Growing Need for International Physicians

The Supreme Court’s recent ruling on the Affordable Care Act (ACA) will have monumental implications for the future of healthcare. Beyond the political posturing and legal scrutiny the decision has inspired, the fact of the matter is that the healthcare law is here to stay. Absent of legislation to modify or repeal the law, it will remain, for better or worse. In the immediate future—implementation, not resistance—will be the mantra of Washington.

The Affordable Care Act will radically alter the landscape of the healthcare industry.

At the same time, the enactment of the law presents substantial challenges. Especially daunting will be the assimilation of an estimated 40 million Americans as they join the ranks of the insured because of the individual mandate. Simultaneously, some 75 million baby boomers hurtle toward retirement, greatly increasing the demand for health services. In addition, almost 40 percent of the 850,000 licensed physicians are 55 years or older, many of them intending to retire in the near future.

Variables such as these have put the healthcare industry on a collision course with massive labor shortages. Traditional models have projected that there could be shortages of more than 150,000 doctors over the next 15 years. The ACA only exacerbates the problem: the Association of American Medical Colleges projected that when the provisions the healthcare law are in full effect, the shortages will grow 50% worse. Many American medical schools are expanding their enrollment capacities, but even those measures will not fully close the gap. Continue reading

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Just What the Physician’s Assistant Ordered

The United Nations Millennium Development Goals provide healthcare providers with ambitious objectives ranging from reversing the spread of the HIV virus, to reducing child and maternal mortality rates.  Unfortunately, meeting these goals is highly contingent upon an adequate supply of health care professionals.  Health Affairs estimates that Africa alone lacks 800,000 healthcare professionals necessary to meet the United Nations Millennium Development goals.  This shortage represents an expensive impediment to global development, the reversal of which requires billions of dollars in healthcare infrastructure investment.  Not to worry: new and innovative approaches to this issue are a cause for optimism.

Map detailing health care workforce shortage

One of the main issues contributing to health care professional shortages worldwide is the so-called “brain drain.”  Health care professionals that are trained in the developing world are emigrating in increasing numbers to developed nations in search of better jobs.  Indeed, as of 2010 there were more Ethiopian doctors in Chicago than there were in all of Ethiopia.  The effect of this mass exodus of doctors is doubly damaging, costing developing nations the resources invested in training doctors as well as the utility of a trained doctor.  While the issue is both prevalent and well documented, it proves difficult to address.  Indeed, in 2010 the World Health Organization (WHO) issued a document covering the global migration of health care professionals.  The issue is wrought with the inherent tension between the pernicious effects of migration and the right of individuals to pursue work wherever they choose. Continue reading