The View from My Seat archives


Published May 5, 2020


Healthcare and legal immigration

Legal immigration enables our healthcare system to be staffed

By Ernie Williamson / The Bulletin

My journey through American health care has taught me one thing: the system would collapse without legal immigration.

Immigration is a sensitive topic that is risky to write about, but I will make an exception here because my health – and probably yours - depends on medical workers coming to this country from foreign lands.

Because of a rare spinal cord disorder that eight years ago left me a paraplegic, I am under the care of a neurologist, cardiologist, urologist, gastroenterologist, dermatologist. physiatrist and a pain management specialist.

While watching a program on immigration, it occurred to me that all my doctors are most likely either immigrants or children of immigrants.

Let me be clear: I am delighted with each of my doctors and feel blessed to have them. There is also evidence that I am fortunate to have them.

A study by Harvard medical researchers in 2017 published in the medical journal BMJ shows that Medicare patients treated by doctors from foreign medical schools had a lower chance of dying than those treated by U.S. medical graduates.

Specifically, for every 250 people treated by American-trained doctors, one would still be alive if they had had a foreign-educated doctor instead.

The main reason for this, according to most experts, is that the immigration and medical requirements ensure that we get only the best and the brightest from other countries.

A similar study published in JAMA Internal Medicine showed that Medicare patients treated by female doctors also were less likely to die than those cared for by male doctors.

The authors of both studies are quick to point out, however, that stereotypes overlook the individual and can lead to harmful conclusions.

That didn’t stop comedian Louis CK on a Saturday Night Live episode from saying he has “mild racism” because of the following thoughts:

“Say I’m in a hospital, and the doctor comes in to treat me, and the doctor is from China or India. I’ll think, ‘Well, good, good, good. More of that.’”

According to Forbes magazine, almost 30 percent of all doctors in the U.S. are immigrants. The numbers increase to 50 percent for geriatric medicine, 47 percent for kidney specialists, 43 percent for cardiologists and 41 percent for critical care specialists.

Do you wait a long time for an appointment now? Imagine how long you would have to wait without doctors from other countries.

But it is not just doctors. Roughly 24 percent of dentists are immigrants, along with 20 percent of pharmacists and 16 percent of registered nurses.

Given the numbers, it should be no surprise that two of the go-to doctors dispensing medical advice on television during the pandemic are Dr. Sanjay Gupta, whose parents immigrated to this country in the 1960s, and Dr. Ashish Jha, who arrived in this country in 1983.

They both go beyond the headlines to offer insight into the battle against Covid-19. Gupta has won multiple Emmy Awards.

It should be pointed out that the United States is not the only country dependent on legal immigration. In the United Kingdom, where anti-immigrant sentiment gave rise to the Brexit movement, the health care system depends heavily on foreign doctors, who are now on the front lines fighting the pandemic.

Tragically, as of this writing, eight U.K. doctors have died from the coronavirus. All were immigrants.

(Ernie Williamson welcomes reader input. Please contact Ernie at Or, send letters in care of The Bulletin, PO Box 2426, Angleton, TX. 77516)