A Nation of Immigrants: In Healthcare, Too

Published July 25, 2016

As some politicians continue to slander immigrants, we need to remember how much we rely on them for what’s best in America.

We are an immigrant nation. Every seventh American citizen is foreign born. Many others – including me — are the children or grandchildren of immigrants. Our ability to draw on the creativity, hard work, and passion of people from outside our nation makes America great.

Immigrants are not the cause of our problems; they are a source of our strength and promise.

Immigrants play an especially vital role in healthcare. Over 25 percent of physicians in the US are immigrants, according to Health Affairs, and close to three quarters of physicians from abroad practice in primary care fields. Primary care is the foundation of a solid, cost-effective healthcare system, so these physicians are especially valuable to the nation as a whole. Because of their practice patterns, “their contributions are particularly beneficial for vulnerable populations, people living in areas with physician shortages, and Medicaid and Medicare populations.” About 20 percent of foreign-educated physicians hail from India, making it the biggest supplier. Historically, immigrant physicians have been eager to practice in the US, even in rural areas where American born doctors are harder to recruit.

More than 20 percent of retail pharmacists are immigrants, and in the US pharmaceutical industry, 40 percent of the scientists are from abroad. They fill today’s prescriptions and invent the medicines of the future.

About 20 percent of direct care workers –a category that includes home health aides, nurse aides and personal care aides—were born outside the US. These individuals, who largely provide care for older adults, are most likely to come from Mexico, followed by the Caribbean, according to the Health Affairs research. About one-third of those from Mexico –and smaller percentages from elsewhere– are believed to be undocumented.

As President George W. Bush explained, “It says something about our country that people around the world are willing to leave their homes and leave their families and risk everything to come to America. Their talent and hard work and love of freedom have helped make America the leader of the world.”

President Bill Clinton said, “More than any other nation on Earth, America has constantly drawn strength and spirit from wave after wave of immigrants. In each generation, they have proved to be the most restless, the most adventurous, the most innovative, the most industrious of people.”

What will be the result of this year’s imaginary fears and wall of slime regarding immigration? What will happen if we close our ‘doors’? In healthcare, we clearlylose.

  • Shortages of physicians and nurses will worsen. Patients who are most vulnerable will be most affected.
  • Service levels will drop at retail pharmacies. More new drugs will be developed overseas rather than in the US.
  • Many homebound patients who depend on immigrant caregivers will be seriously impacted. The burden of caring for them will fall on their families –not all of whom will be willing or able to help.

At CareCentrix, we value the contributions of all of our employees and partners, wherever they were born. I am embarrassed by the anti-immigrant rhetoric on the campaign trail, and as an American who believes in our country’s ideals, I am disgusted.