Importing Doctors Still Isn't Necessary

By Jason Richwine on September 29, 2020

When the Covid-19 pandemic hit in full force last March, the expected spike in demand for healthcare workers raised fears of a shortage. In response, Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.) proposed the Healthcare Workforce Resilience Act (S.3599), which would grant green cards (permanent residency) to 25,000 nurses and 15,000 doctors, plus their families. Is this legislation necessary?

As I noted back in May, the spike in demand for healthcare workers never materialized. Demand actually fell due to restrictions on non-emergency care. Many healthcare workers found themselves in the improbable situation of being laid off during a pandemic.

The figure below shows that unemployment rates for doctors and nurses have remained above pre-pandemic levels throughout the summer. Registered nurses, for example, have an unemployment rate of 2.7 percent — down from the summertime peak but still higher than their pre-pandemic level of 1.1 percent.

Unemployment rates among doctors and nurses remain above pre-pandemic levels.

Source: 2020 Monthly Current Population Survey, January through August; two-month moving averages.

Under the Healthcare Workforce Resilience Act, it is unclear which jobs the new doctors and nurses would fill. Even if demand increases in the near future, the Americans who recently lost their jobs would be the obvious source of workers to draw from.

Methodological Notes

The data source for the figure is the monthly Current Population Survey. Because sample sizes are small for two of the three groups — about 190 per month for doctors and 200 per month for practical/vocational nurses — a two-month moving average is used to smooth out the random sampling variation. The most reliable trend probably comes from registered nurses, as there are over 1,000 sampled each month.