IMPRINT: Immigrant Professional Integration

Combating Healthcare Shortages by Removing Barriers for International Medical Grads

Foreign-trained doctors testifying before the MA State Legislature’s Joint Committee on Public Safety. Pictured, left to right: Skarlleth C. Kauffmann (Costa Rica), Laith Almatwari (Iraq), Afsaneh Moradi (Iran), Jorge Carias (El Salvador).

Facing projected doctor shortages and disparities in access to high-quality healthcare, states are increasingly taking steps to capitalize on the talent within their immigrant communities. This year, measures were introduced in Arkansas, Massachusetts, Virginia, and Washington State.

Arkansas
Earlier this year, Arkansas passed a bill adding fellowships as a method for international medical graduates to obtain licenses to practice medicine. The new law, highlighting the critical need to meet healthcare shortages in parts of the state, recognizes that tapping into the international medical graduate community will increase the number of doctors available to serve Arkansas residents.

Washington State
Last month, Washington State’s Governor Inslee signed a bill to increase cultural competency among health professionals by reducing barriers to employment for international medical graduates. The new law establishes a work group to recommend strategies to reduce barriers for international medical graduates and address health disparities in the state. The work group will bring together representatives from state medical schools as well as hospitals, immigrant-serving organizations, the state Department of Health, and others.

Ahmed Ali, the executive director of the Somali Health Board, said his organization regularly encounters international medical graduates facing obstacles when trying to practice medicine in the U.S. The organization met with legislators and provided public health data demonstrating the positive impact of practitioners speaking the language of their patients. And they underscored the critical need for more doctors in Washington State, where large numbers of physicians are likely to retire in the next five years.

Massachusetts
Similar measures are pending before the Joint Committee on Public Health in the House and Senate in Massachusetts. This legislation would establish a commission to issue recommendations concerning professional licensure of internationally trained medical professionals, with the goal of expanding and improving access to healthcare in rural and underserved areas.

The Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition (MIRA) was the lead advocacy organization behind the bill. MIRA built a broad coalition of support for the measure. According to Eva Millona, executive director of MIRA, the organization is working hard to ensure the measure is included in the final budget due by July. Millona emphasized the broad base of support behind the bill, including from health organizations like the Massachusetts Medical Society.

Virginia
In Virginia, where there is a serious need for more doctors based on projected growth, particularly in rural communities. House Delegate Kathy Tran introduced a resolution requesting the Virginia Department of Health Professions study options to better utilize doctors trained outside the U.S. to address these shortages.

Tran explained that, because internationally trained doctors are more likely to serve, live, and invest in rural areas where shortages are particularly acute, the study was an important move forward for Virginia. While the measure—despite the support of both the Virginia Medical Society and the Virginia Healthcare and Hospital Association—did not pass, the committee chair did agree to request that the Department of Health Professions conduct the study.

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These measures are significant steps forward in combating brain waste. Opportunities to leverage the immense talent and experience among immigrant health care professionals continue to grow in the face of increasingly urgent health care shortages. As state legislative sessions come to a close, WES Global Talent Bridge and the IMPRINT coalition will continue to monitor and promote policy developments to remove barriers to employment for internationally trained healthcare professionals.

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