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New study reveals impact of immigrant medical professionals on U.S. health care system

June 7, 2016   /   by Buzz McClain

A major study released today indicates that the U.S. health care system is vastly dependent on the services, research and employment of immigrants across the country, and that dependence will only increase in the future.

The new research by George Mason University’s Institute for Immigration Research in Fairfax, Va., and The Immigrant Learning Center of Malden, Mass., concludes that while immigrants make up 13 percent of the U.S. population, they play a disproportionate role in American health care.

That continuing dependence on foreign-born health care workers will increase significantly in the future as the United States faces a growing shortage of health care workers, from physicians to nurses to researchers.

“Improving the health of all Americans cannot be possible without the vital contributions immigrants provide in the areas of medicine, medical science, long-term care and nursing,” said Monica Gomez Isaac, executive director of George Mason’s institute. “The skills and education they bring from their homelands are especially crucial as American society continues to experience an increased aging populace, which also makes up an increasingly diverse patient population.”

“Immigrants touch our lives in many ways, but none so deeply as in the current health care system,” said the report’s author, Marcia D. Hohn, former director of the Public Education Institute at The Immigrant Learning Center. “From low-skill, entry-level jobs all the way to the leading medical researchers, health care in America is highly dependent on the skill, talent and energy of immigrants.”

To receive a PDF of the study, please contact Buzz McClain at bmcclai2@gmu.edu or 703-993-8782.

Immigrants and health care fast facts

Immigrants make up 13 percent of the U.S. population, and:

  • 28 percent of physicians and surgeons
  • 40 percent of medical scientists in pharmaceutical research and development
  • 50 percent + of medical scientists in biotechnology in states with a strong biotechnology sector
  • 22 percent of nursing, psychiatric and home health aides
  • 15 percent of registered nurses

In addition, 46 percent of foreign-born (immigrant) physicians and surgeons pursue work in internal medicine where there are vast shortages of practitioners, whereas only 15 percent of U.S. medical graduates do so. Immigrant physicians also practice in rural and inner-city areas where physician shortages persist.