Illinois should ease the way for immigrant healthcare workers
None of this mattered in the United States, it seemed. Because here, the licensing and hiring systems did not value his medical qualifications or his life experiences that demonstrated a superhuman ability to adapt and persist – while raising two children. After experiencing challenge after challenge trying to enter the medical profession in the United States, she ended up pivoting: to food service. She started out as an hourly food preparation and eventually hit the bamboo cap as a mid-level manager.
My mother’s struggles began three decades ago, but the problem of skill underutilization persists today despite the staffing shortages and strains facing the U.S. healthcare system today, particularly in Chicago and the Midwest, according to a study by the Chicago Council on Global. Business.
My sister recently welcomed her first child into the world, the second born American citizen to our family. Her postpartum doula, Nancy, would have been more than qualified to support childbirth: she was OB-GYN licensed in her native Venezuela, but had abandoned her plans in the mid-2000s to obtain a new medical license in the United States. United after learning what was involved: redoing the exams she had taken at home and repeating a grueling multi-year residency, a process that would have taken years and tens of thousands of dollars.
Nancy says, “I feel like the United States is wasting all of these wonderful resources of all the foreign doctors who live here who are not licensed. The road is not easy for professional immigrant women around the world. I hope that one day there will be a clearer way for all of us to show our skills and professionalism. I encourage all of these women to continue pursuing their dreams with a big heart and a strong character. “
Nancy and my mother are among 2 million professional college graduates living in the United States who have encountered systemic obstacles in rebuilding their professional careers and are therefore either unemployed or underemployed. Nearly 85,900 of these professionals live in Illinois and 7,000 have backgrounds in the health care field. That both are women is no coincidence: At a time when more than 5 million women have left the workforce, immigrant women and women of color have experienced even higher rates of unemployment and poverty. A forthcoming Migration Policy Institute report shows that nationwide, more than 60% of foreign-educated immigrant women are either unemployed or underemployed, a higher percentage than any other group surveyed.
Barriers related to immigration status and gender conspire to deprive talented immigrant women and the talented Illinois workforce of opportunities. I’ve heard dozens of their stories since I became a Leadership Council volunteer in the Chicago office of Upwardly Global, a national organization that supports immigrant and refugee professionals in rebuilding their careers in the United States. challenges, limited professional networks and an undervaluation of international credentials and experience – exacerbated by gender biases and sometimes demands for care. The fact that the vital skills of these healthcare professionals are underutilized during a national health emergency adds insult to injury.
During COVID-19, some states like New York, New Jersey and Nevada issued temporary processes for emergency licensing, and Idaho invoked an order allowing internationally trained doctors to serve in an emergency. And earlier this month, Washington State Governor Jay Inslee signed into law SHB1129, which allows qualified international medical graduates to practice medicine in Washington, creating clear pathways and manageable.
Illinois can and should join the ranks of these forward-looking states by creating licensing systems that recognize the value of international credentials, creating pathways for immigrant physicians to support our response to the ongoing pandemic. and alleviate the looming shortage of doctors and other health care workers.
And then we have to do more: when designing political solutions, immigrant women should be considered first, not last. Building a workforce that welcomes women, immigrants, workers of color, and people of diverse backgrounds benefits all of Illinois. Amazing professionals like my mom Zongmin, Nancy, and the women I’ve met through Upwardly Global can make amazing contributions to Illinois if given the chance.
Jane Yang is the child of two immigrants from China and an executive champion on the Board of Directors of Upwardly Global in Chicago. She is also the head of the Chicago Immigrant Justice Task Force for Asian Americans.