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As many as 1 in 6 healthcare workers are immigrants, JAMA shows

Employment in the healthcare industry is expected to grow about 18 percent over the next eight years; foreign-born workers likely to fill gap.

Jeff Lagasse, Associate Editor

About one in six medical professionals in the United States are immigrants from other countries, according to new research published by the Journal of the American Medical Association. And they often fill employment gaps left by a dearth of American-born workers, concentrated largely in rural and community markets, which have a tougher time attracting talent.

Looking at a sample of 164,000 healthcare professionals in the Census Bureau's 2016 American Community Survey, the authors found 16.6 percent of workers were born outside the country, and 4.6 percent are not American citizens.


Employment in the healthcare industry is expected to grow about 18 percent over the next eight years, adding 2.4 million jobs, and without robust numbers of native trainees, a good percentage of those jobs will likely be filled by foreign-born workers.

Physicians topped the list as 29.1 percent of them are foreign-born, while 6.9 percent are not citizens. Dentists came in second (23.7 and 3.9 percent, respectively), followed by nursing, psychiatric and home health aides (23.1 and 8.7 percent); pharmacists (20.3 and 3.7 percent); dieticians and nutritionists (17.4 and 7.7 percent; and medical assistants (17.3 and 5.6 percent).

These numbers have remained fairly steady for about the past decade, the authors said.

Dental assistants, optometrists, registered nurses and licensed practical and licensed vocational nurses all saw rates of foreign-born workers at or above 15 percent.


Primary care physicians' compensation rose by more than 10 percent over the past five years, according to a report earlier this year from the Medical Group Management Association. This increase, which is nearly double that of specialty physicians' compensation over the same period, was cited as further evidence of the worsening primary care physician shortage in the American healthcare system.

Chief among reasons for the primary care physician shortage is an aging population, which is outpacing the supply of the chronic care they need. Physicians themselves are aging, also, which further compounds the problem.

The ongoing physician shortage is causing staffing and recruitment headaches for hospitals and providers, particularly in the field of primary care medicine. Because of that, many institutions are taking a new look at U.S. citizen international medical school graduates, or USIMGs, to help fill the void.

USIMGs are U.S. citizens who do their training internationally. Until recently, recruiters for residency slots didn't given them the same weight as graduates of traditional U.S. medical schools. But that's beginning to change.

Twitter: @JELagasse

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