Wait for Foreign-Born Nurses is Getting Longer

John Commins, for HealthLeaders Media , March 16, 2009

The nurse shortage is a problem recognized throughout healthcare. Nearly nine out of ten (88%) respondents to the HealthLeaders Media Industry Survey 2009 say that the nurse shortage would have a negative impact on their organization in the next three years.

So why is it so hard to bring in foreign-born nurses?

Shusterman blames the nurses unions, specifically the Service Employees International Union.

"The nurse unions really don't want any foreign nurses here," he says. "When it comes to non-nurses, they do back flips and say the immigration laws are too harsh. They want to organize illegal workers, and I'm all for that. But here we are trying to do it the legal way and they are against it. I don't know why nurses are different from everybody else they want to organize."

Calls to SEIU's Washington office seeking comment on the issue were not returned.

President Obama, a strong supporter of organized labor, at a healthcare summit this month in the White House, said recruiting foreign-born nurses "makes absolutely no sense."

Instead, Obama said the nation should be focusing on creating more nurse training programs to fill the void. "That's something that we've got to fix. That should be a bipartisan no-brainer, to make sure that we've got the best possible nursing staffs in the country," Obama told the gathering.

Shusterman, who regards himself as pro-union, who voted for Obama, donated money and worked for his presidential campaign, says the president and the unions are simply wrong. "The idea that they are going to get all these people in nursing schools and graduated to fill these vacancies to solve this problem in our lifetimes is fantasy land," he says. "We need every possible source. The president is just being informed by the nurse unions who don't want nurses to come here, which is a shame."

Far from posing a threat to organized labor, Shusterman says, foreign-born nurses would join unions and increase their membership, which would also address the unions' constant carping over staffing ratios.

"We've got about 90,000 people dying needlessly in hospitals every year and part of that is because there aren't enough nurses," he says. "I thought patients' needs were supposed to come before nurses' salaries. The only people getting hurt by the current system are American patients."

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John Commins is a senior editor with HealthLeaders Media.

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