How Trump’s Travel Ban Could Affect The Physician Shortage


Foreign Doctors are Combating Doctor Shortage, But What Happens If There’s a Travel Ban?

In 2016, a report cited by Forbes stated that roughly 25% of all doctors practicing in the United States were not born in the US.  Roughly a quarter of all physicians are foreign.  Additionally, this same report found that 16% of all other medical professionals, be it nurses or physician assistants, were immigrants.  For many Americans, the idea of skilled workers flooding into their country is terrifying.  That’s understandable, however, doctor and nurse immigration is one form of immigration that is nearly essential.

A report gathered by IHS and completed by The Association of American Medical Colleges found that by 2025 if the current trends continue, the United States will face a shortage of 46,100 to 90,400 physicians.  As baby-boomers get older and live longer, more doctors and nurses will be required to care for the next wave of seniors.  However, even with doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals rolling off the US college assembly line, there will still be a shortage.

The US could be short 40,100 to 90,600 doctors by 2025

This shortage will greatly impact poorer at-risk regions of the United States.  These regions are called underserved areas and include swaths of the US from Alaska to Maine.  Underserved regions don’t have to be poor, they can just be undesirable in the eyes of recent medical school graduates.  Though the cost of living and job opportunities is running thin in cities like New York, Los Angeles, and Washington DC, US-born medical school graduates prefer these areas.  This leaves cities like Knoxville, TN, Lincoln, NE, and Tucson, AZ underserved.

This is where foreign doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals come into play.  Foreign medical professionals must apply for visas to stay in the United States.  Once visas are up, they typically can’t be renewed.  There are still a few ways in which doctors and nurses on visas can stay within the United States.  These medical professionals from abroad can practice in underserved communities to extend their stay in the US and even apply for citizenship.  Of course, it’s not that clear-cut.  Still, this is the main path foreign doctors and nurses will take.  Immigrant doctors and nurses apply for a visa, study or practice, relocation to an underserved area, and finally possibly a work visa or green card.

This has been the process for the last few decades.  Unfortunately for perspective foreign medical professionals and patients in underserved areas, things might get much worse.  If you’ll recall, President Donald Trump signed two executive orders during the first three months of his presidency that banned travel from certain countries throughout the Middle East and Africa.  Those on the left rushed to call the bans a “Muslim Ban” while those on the right applauded the President’s actions for wanting to keep Americans safe.  There’s a little truth in both statements.  Regardless, the travel bans had a few unexpected consequences.  One consequence that the bans had were that they stranded doctors who had been practicing in the US, abroad.  Doctors from Iran were affected the most.  They shared their stories online and on social media.  Ultimately, the travel bans were overturned for being unconstitutional and foreign doctors affected by the travel bans were able to return to the United States.

The Travel Ban is headed to the Supreme Court
The Travel Ban is headed to the Supreme Court

Now, the travel ban is headed to the Supreme Court where justices will debate the order’s legality.  If the Supreme Court justices find that it doesn’t violate the constitution or any previous legislation, it will be signed into law.  Thus, the issue of foreign doctors being able to practice in the US becomes an issue, again.  Regardless if the travel ban passes, there’s still the possibility of future legislation that restricts immigration to the United States.  The restriction of immigration to the United States could potentially have drastic consequences on the shortage of medical professionals.

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