State Budget Includes Sen. Lewis Provision to Address Barriers for Foreign-Trained Medical Professionals & Improve Access to Health Care

BOSTON – A new commission created in the FY2020 state budget that Governor Baker signed this week will help address our Commonwealth’s critical shortages of medical providers by identifying best practices to license and deploy foreign-trained health professionals.

Massachusetts has some of the best medical facilities in the world, but it also fails to meet many people’s basic needs. Over 7% of state residents lack adequate access to primary care, dental care, or mental health services, including more than 500,000 low-income people in Greater Boston, Western, Central and Southeastern Massachusetts.

Yet we also have a lot of untapped talent: more than 8,000 doctors, nurses, pharmacists, mental health providers and other medical professionals who were educated abroad – over 20% of whom are jobless or underemployed because they’ve had difficulties getting licensed in the U.S.

A provision in the FY2020 budget directly addresses this issue by establishing a 23-member commission that will bring together all the key stakeholders – state agencies, hospital and health center leaders, professional organizations, educators, and affected clinicians – to tackle barriers to licensure, with the express goal of deploying these providers in underserved, high-need areas.

“The shortage of health care workers across Massachusetts and the nation must be addressed urgently,” said Senator Jason Lewis, on whose bill the budget provision was based. “By addressing obstacles facing foreign-trained medical professionals in their efforts to obtain their full medical licenses here in the Commonwealth, we can tackle those work force challenges.

“Marrying this pool of unused talent with a population in need of better access to services would help us to better meet our health care needs and expand opportunity at the same time,” he added. “I’m confident that this policy will expand access in underserved communities, improve health care outcomes, and empower all qualified medical professionals to participate actively in the work force.”

For affected clinicians, the new commission offers hope after years of struggle.

“I am so excited as a Haitian who has trained as a doctor in Mexico and France that I would be able to contribute my clinical skills to serve people who cross many intersections, addressing their cultures and backgrounds, especially in mental health,” said Dr. Judith Thermidor. “This important step will allow foreign-trained physicians to work together with American doctors to address an urgent need: eliminating inequities in the quality and availability of health care for ethnic, racial and economic minorities by increasing the cultural competence of Massachusetts’ health care work force.”

“I am very happy and full of good expectations for the steps Massachusetts is taking to help doctors like me to become part of the health care system,” said Dr. Jorge Carias, from El Salvador. “I came here three years ago, and I have longed every day for an opportunity to put my skills to work for my community.”

The new commission is charged with studying and making recommendations on (i) strategies to integrate foreign-trained medical professionals into rural and underserved areas; (ii) state and federal licensing regulations that may pose unnecessary barriers; (iii) potential changes to Massachusetts licensing requirements; (iv) opportunities to advocate for corresponding changes to national licensing requirements; and (v) any other relevant matters.

The commission is to submit a report to the Legislature by July 1, 2021, including proposed bills to carry out its recommendations.