Trump's Travel Ban Sows Uncertainty For Healthcare And Medicine

“For healthcare in general, a well-working immigration system has been critical to our success,” said Dr. Darrell Kirch, CEO of the Association of American Medical Colleges. “In terms of the scientific side, one of the reasons for American leadership in health sciences research is the fact that the best and brightest from all over the world seek to come here.”

The U.S. also needs these immigrants to fill gaps in healthcare services and as a result has admitted immigrant healthcare professionals through a variety of avenues.

Many have used the U.S. State Department's H-1B Temporary Visitor and J-1 Exchange Visitor visa programs, which permit foreign healthcare professionals to work in federally designated shortage areas. And many medical graduates who complete their medical education in the U.S. under a J-1 visa get a waiver that allows them to remain in the country to work.

About 78% of international medical graduates are involved in direct patient care, according to the George Mason researchers. Foreign-born physicians often fill a primary-care role that has been less frequently taken up by U.S.-born medical graduates, who increasingly opt to practice in more lucrative specialties.

Forty-six percent of the physicians with a J-1 visa practice in internal medicine, compared with just 15% of U.S.-born medical graduates. International medical graduates are also more likely than their U.S.-born counterparts to work in medically underserved communities.

If tougher, indiscriminate immigration policies drive foreign-born medical graduates and researchers to seek opportunities outside the U.S., those policies could hurt the country's capacity to meet rising demand for healthcare services expected in the coming years as the elderly population increases. A 2016 AAMC report projected that by 2025 the physician shortfall will exceed 90,000.

Even though the number of medical schools in the U.S. has increased since 2002, the increase in U.S. medical graduates they have produced has not been sufficient to fill available residency slots. During the 2014-15 academic school year, there were 22% more residency positions available than could be filled by graduates from U.S. medical schools, according to Merritt Hawkins, a medical staffing agency.

“The shortage of physicians is acute, especially in primary care, and eliminating 25% of the available pool of candidates obviously makes a difficult situation even more difficult,” said Jim Stone, president of the Medicus Firm, another physician-staffing agency.

Foreign-born scientists, engineers and doctors in the U.S. contribute significantly and in some cases disproportionately to medicine and scientific research. Across the country's top seven cancer research centers, 42% of researchers were foreign born, the National Foundation for American Policy found in a 2013 study. In New York City, 46% of medical professionals were foreign born, the city's comptroller reported in January.

At the 10 universities that earned the most patents in 2011, nearly 8 out 10 patents for pharmaceutical drugs or drug compounds had a foreign-born inventor. Immigrants also played a role in three-quarters of molecular and microbiology patents, according to a 2012 study by Partnership for a New American Economy.

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