The Global Healthcare Worker Shortage Spells Opportunities and Challenges for Immigrants

Updated on December 1, 2023

Doctors, nurses, dentists, midwives: qualified healthcare professionals of every specialty are in demand on a global scale. In fact, the World Health Organization (WHO) projects there will be a worldwide shortfall of 10 million health workers by 2030. The need has only been amplified by COVID-19.

As a healthcare professional, this gives you the leverage to choose where you want to live and work. This may mean giving your family a better life. Or choosing to see the world as a traveling nurse. Or simply going where you feel you’re needed most. 

Immigration in the healthcare industry

Immigration is nothing new in the healthcare industry. Due to the acute need for workers, visa requirements for skilled professionals are often favorable.

In the United States, for example, immigrants make up about 28% of physicians and surgeons. And according to the WHO, one in eight nurses practices in a country other than the one where they were born or trained. 

While the migration of healthcare professionals raises legitimate concerns for the industry as a whole (with poorer nations suffering the deepest staffing shortages), on an individual level, being able to work abroad offers tremendous advantages.

Working overseas can improve your professional skills by exposing you to different medical practices and techniques. It also leads to greater cultural awareness, expanded communication skills, and offers opportunities for personal fulfillment.

Things to consider before taking the leap

No international move should be taken lightly. Whether permanent or temporary, living and working in a foreign country comes with challenges that should be considered carefully and prepared for. 

Language barriers

Communication challenges are a concern any time you move to a new country. But when the health and lives of patients are on the line, being fluent in the local language is mandatory. This may limit you to working in countries that share your native language (moving to Canada from New Zealand, for example). However, learning new languages, or improving on your existing second language, will open up many more opportunities and generally make it easier to live and work in the country of your choosing.

Cultural differences

When working abroad, it’s important to be prepared for cultural differences that will affect you. Customs and social norms shape patients’ attitudes toward medicine in general and expectations of you in particular. Culture also influences the employer/employee relationship and will affect your working conditions. To ensure a good fit, familiarize yourself with the realities in your destination country before accepting a position overseas.

Legal requirements

Every country has its own rules governing foreign workers.There will also be codes that govern the specifics of practicing medicine there. It would be wise to seek legal advice to ensure you abide by all relevant laws and regulations and remain in good standing in your host community.

Preparing for your visa application

Before you can legally work in another country as a healthcare professional, you must first obtain a visa granting you permission to do so. This means applying with the proper agency (e.g. USCIS in the United States).

As part of your application, you’ll be asked to submit documents such as your passport or other government-issued ID and proof of your qualifications to work in your field. These documents will either need to be written in the official language of your destination country or accompanied by certified translations from a qualified translation agency. You can opt for reliable and convenient medical translation services online to ensure accuracy and efficiency in translating any medical-related documentation required for your application.

You may also be asked to take exams demonstrating your proficiency in your field and the language in which you’ll be practicing. Furthermore, if you’ll be accompanied by family, they will need to submit their documentation, as well.

The most in-demand skills

Every sector of the healthcare industry is experiencing worker shortages. That means there is work available for everyone. Nurses in particular are needed everywhere, especially since 17% of nurses globally are expected to retire within the next 10 years. Pharmacists are also in short supply, particularly in rural areas. And occupational/physical therapists are in high demand, too.

Recruiters are looking for a combination of hard and soft skills when hiring healthcare workers from overseas. Therefore, emotional intelligence, communication, teamwork, and time management are all in-demand qualifications to include on your CV.

Is overseas work right for you?

Working in healthcare overseas might be right for you if you enjoy travel and immersing yourself in foreign cultures. If you don’t mind the learning curve that comes with practicing in an entirely different healthcare system. And if you have the language skills necessary to work in your desired location.

However, leaving behind everything that’s familiar–including family and friends–can take a toll. Healthcare is a high-stress career that requires a good support system. Some people never adjust to a new culture and may struggle to acclimate to their new environment.

To help you decide if working in healthcare overseas is right for you, talk to others who are already practicing in the location you are considering. There’s no better resource to learn from than those who’ve walked the path before you and can share their honest, unfiltered experience.

The Editorial Team at Healthcare Business Today is made up of skilled healthcare writers and experts, led by our managing editor, Daniel Casciato, who has over 25 years of experience in healthcare writing. Since 1998, we have produced compelling and informative content for numerous publications, establishing ourselves as a trusted resource for health and wellness information. We offer readers access to fresh health, medicine, science, and technology developments and the latest in patient news, emphasizing how these developments affect our lives.