This week, Michigan joined five other states–New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Nevada, and Colorado–in adapting licensing guidelines that allow internationally-trained healthcare workers to lend their life-saving skills to the U.S. COVID-19 response. Upwardly Global, a national nonprofit that is currently supporting hundreds of immigrant & refugee healthcare professionals in rebuilding careers in the health sector, applauds the forward-looking efforts in these states and encourages other governors to explore ways to engage this talent pool in bolstering a strained health system.
“Beyond valid medical degrees and U.S. work authorization, immigrant and refugee professionals bring skills that are especially vital at this time,” said Jina Krause-Vilmar, CEO of Upwardly Global. “Many have fought past health crises like Ebola or SARS. They offer valuable language and cross-cultural skills to our response, especially relevant as immigrants and communities of color are disproportionately affected by COVID-19. They’re here, they’re experienced, and they’re eager to contribute.”
There are 165,000 internationally-trained healthcare professionals living in the United States who do not currently work in the healthcare sector, according to the Migration Policy Institute. Large numbers live in states hit hardest by the coronavirus pandemic, including New York, which is home to 13,000 unemployed or underemployed immigrant healthcare professionals. For many, the time-consuming and expensive process of re-licensing in the United States has kept them from returning to the healthcare field.
“Every day, we work with professionals who were doctors or nurses in their home countries. They’ve taken an oath to save lives, and they’re committed to continuing that work,” said Krause-Vilmar. “But re-licensing in the U.S. means repeating education, exams, residencies. The process takes years and thousands of dollars — rebuilding professional networks while cutting through red tape. It’s a series of hurdles that keep life-saving talent out of our workforce.”
In response to COVID-19, some states–including New Jersey, Nevada, and Michigan–have begun issuing emergency licenses to healthcare professionals who hold valid licenses in other countries. New York, Massachusetts, and Colorado have built other pathways for internationally-trained health workers to provide healthcare services in response to the pandemic.
Data point to opportunity for other states interested in bolstering their pipelines of healthcare workers to follow suit. A recent survey of immigrant healthcare professionals enrolled in Upwardly Global’s job coaching program revealed that over 93 percent would be willing to step forward to work in needed healthcare roles during this pandemic if given the opportunity.
“Responding to this virus has strained an already-stretched system. Pre-COVID, we saw shortages of doctors and nurses across the country, particularly in rural communities. Post-COVID, those realities will continue, especially given ongoing needs for testing,” said Krause-Vilmar. “States have an opportunity to learn from this crisis and build long-term licensing processes that advance equity and reduce redundancies and cost without compromising quality.”
Upwardly Global’s program offers networking, skill-building, and job coaching services to work-authorized immigrants and refugees, helping them rebuild careers in their professional fields, including healthcare. In response to COVID-19, Upwardly Global has partnered with government agencies and healthcare systems across the country, bolstering pipelines of qualified health workers willing to serve. Interested health workers or healthcare employers can access information here: https://www.upwardlyglobal.org/hc/
On May 1, Upwardly Global will launch a public awareness and fundraising campaign, “Supporting Immigrants. Stronger Together,” that elevates the stories of program alumni and current job seekers serving on the front lines of the COVID-19 response. Details here: https://www.classy.org/campaign/supporting-immigrants-stronger-together/c282247
Upwardly Global, founded in 2000, is the first and longest-serving organization focusing on integrating immigrant and refugee professionals into the U.S. workforce. Upwardly Global’s innovative skill-building and networking programs coach newcomers in rebuilding professional careers and U.S. employers in accessing their talents with inclusive hiring practices. To date, Upwardly Global has trained more than 14,000 people. Learn more at www.upwardlyglobal.org.