Sunday, August 7, 2011

Recruiting Providers Who Trained Abroad

With a shortage of health care providers looming, the U.S. is trying to tap foreign-trained professionals to fill the gap. There are two tactics to achieve this, as several recent articles in Fierce Healthcare point out: giving temporary visas to nurses currently living and working abroad, and creating on-ramps for foreign-trained health care professionals living in the U.S. to practice medicine again.

As Fierce Healthcare points out, these policies would not just increase the number of people practicing medicine in the U.S., they would also add more diversity and language/cultural competency skills to the current health care workforce.

A bill approved by the House of Representatives, H.R. 1933, would double the length of time that foreign-trained nurses could work in U.S. hospitals from three years to six years, although the bill allows fewer of these visas than were granted in the past. These nurses would work in areas with nursing shortages that also serve Medicare and Medicaid patients, the Fierce Healthcare article explains.

Fierce Healthcare points out that, despite a crushing shortage of tens of thousands of health care professionals nationwide, this bill only grants 300 visas and serves about a dozen hospitals. Many of these hospitals are located in the bill sponsor's home state of Texas.

Meanwhile, the Welcome Back Initiative seeks to recruit underemployed foreign-trained U.S. residents back into medicine. The initiative funds free resource centers that provide information on getting appropriate credentials to practice in the U.S., educational programs, and job opportunities. The initiative currently serves only nine areas of the country, however, virtually ignoring the Midwest and the South.

These recruitment tools, if limited (and, I suspect, politically fraught), are at least a step in the right direction toward solving a serious provider shortage in health care.

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