The healthcare industry in the United States is facing a significant shortage of workers, including a shortage of physicians, nurses and mental health professionals, a situation exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and its long-term effect. 

Hospitals and healthcare systems are juggling the challenges of managing the demand for access to care and a diminishing workforce.  Healthcare providers are strained and experiencing burnout. State legislatures are exploring ways to eliminate barriers for licensure and ways to reduce burdens for professionals while minimizing risk to the public.  Therefore, addressing this crisis warrants a multifaceted approach. 

So let’s dive in.

The shortages

According to recent data published by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), the U.S. could see an estimated shortage of between 54,100 and 139,000 of all physicians, including a significant shortfall in primary care and specialty physicians. 

“This annual analysis continues to show that our country will face a significant shortage of physicians in the coming years,” said AAMC President and CEO David J. Skorton, MD. “The gap between the country’s increasing health care demands and the supply of doctors to adequately respond has become more evident as we continue to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. The challenge of having enough doctors to serve our communities will get even worse as the nation’s population continues to grow and age.”

But that’s not all.


As the Baby Boomer generation ages, the demand for healthcare services is on the rise. 

This demographic shift is placing significant strain on the healthcare workforce, particularly on Registered Nurses (RNs). Nursing schools across the country are grappling with the challenge of expanding their capacity to meet this rising demand, but they are facing numerous obstacles.

Unfortunately, expanding nursing school capacity is not as simple as increasing the number of seats in classrooms. It requires a comprehensive approach that addresses several key challenges:

  • Faculty shortages: One of the primary obstacles to expanding nursing programs is the shortage of qualified nursing faculty. Many experienced nurses are reaching retirement age, and there are not enough new faculty members to replace them.
  • Clinical placement availability: Nursing education requires hands-on clinical experience, which means students must have access to clinical placements in healthcare facilities. However, many hospitals and healthcare facilities are already at capacity and unable to accommodate additional students.
  • Funding and resources: Expanding nursing programs requires financial resources to hire faculty, expand facilities, and provide students with the necessary resources and support. However, many nursing schools are operating on tight budgets and may not have the funding needed to expand.
  • Stigma and discrimination: Despite efforts to reduce stigma surrounding mental health, many individuals still face discrimination and social stigma when seeking mental health care. This can deter individuals from pursuing careers in mental health professions.
  • Lack of funding and resources: Mental health services are often underfunded compared to other areas of healthcare. This lack of funding can limit the number of mental health professionals trained and available to provide care.
  • Geographic disparities: Rural areas and underserved communities often have fewer mental health professionals per capita, leading to disparities in access to care. Many mental health professionals prefer to work in urban areas, leaving rural communities underserved.
  • Limited access to training: There is a limited number of training programs for mental health professionals, particularly in certain specialties such as child and adolescent psychiatry. This can result in a shortage of professionals with specialized training to meet specific mental health needs.
  • Lack of diversity: The behavioral health workforce lacks diversity, with a disproportionate number of providers being white and non-Hispanic. This lack of diversity can create barriers to care for minority populations who may prefer to receive care from providers who share their cultural background and experiences.
  • Behavioral and mental health: The U.S. is also currently experiencing a significant shortage of mental health professionals, creating a crisis in access to mental health care. As of December 2023, more than half (169 million) of the U.S. population lives in a Mental Health Professional Shortage Area (Mental Health HPSA). And rural counties are more likely than urban counties to lack behavioral health providers. But why?

Some state legislatures are taking proactive steps to address the critical shortage of healthcare professionals. 

In Georgia, Senate Bill 529 (SB 529) is a significant legislative initiative aimed at providing licensure opportunities for qualifying foreign medical graduates. 

The bill proposes the creation of a nonrenewable limited provisional license and a renewable restricted license under certain conditions. These licenses are designed to expedite the licensure process for foreign medical graduates, allowing them to practice medicine in areas facing physician shortages.

Similarly, in Maryland, House Bill 642 (HB 642) is another crucial piece of legislation that seeks to address the shortage of healthcare professionals. 

The bill focuses on establishing apprenticeship programs for healthcare professionals, including physicians, nurses, and other allied health professionals. These apprenticeship programs are designed to provide individuals with the necessary training and education to qualify for licensure, increasing the number of healthcare professionals available to meet the growing demand for healthcare services.

The impact

These shortages have profound implications for communities across the country. 

The shortage of RNs has significant implications for healthcare delivery, as nurses often provide direct patient care, coordinating care plans and educating patients about their health. 

A shortage of nurses will lead to increased workloads, resulting in burnout and lower job satisfaction. Additionally, patients may experience longer wait times, decreased quality of care, and higher healthcare costs.

And the shortage of mental health professionals has far-reaching implications for individuals, families, and communities, as well. 

Without access to timely and quality mental health care, individuals may experience worsened mental health outcomes, including increased risk of suicide, substance abuse, and other mental health disorders. Families and communities may also suffer from the economic and social costs associated with untreated mental illness, including lost productivity, increased healthcare costs, and strain on social services.

But legislative initiatives (similar to those referenced above) have the potential to significantly impact healthcare access and delivery. 

By providing licensure opportunities for foreign medical graduates and establishing apprenticeship programs for healthcare professionals, these states are taking proactive steps to address critical shortages in the healthcare workforce.

The role of IMG physicians

International Medical Graduates (IMGs) are pivotal in mitigating healthcare shortages, especially in underserved regions where they frequently practice. Their contributions are integral to providing quality healthcare to communities in need, bridging gaps in care and improving health outcomes for vulnerable populations.

In other words, IMG physicians are the new backbone of healthcare delivery. 

They often work in remote or economically disadvantaged regions where access to healthcare services is limited. By serving in these areas, IMGs play a crucial role in ensuring that all individuals, regardless of their location or socioeconomic status, have access to quality healthcare.

As such, the American Medical Association (AMA) and other healthcare organizations are actively advocating for policies that support IMGs and strengthen the physician workforce. These efforts include expanding opportunities for IMGs to practice medicine in the U.S., advocating for fair and efficient licensure processes, and promoting cultural competence and diversity in healthcare.

The wrap up

It’s no secret that we’re grappling with a profound healthcare crisis. Severe shortages of physicians, nurses, and mental health professionals, compounded by the aging population and the strains of the COVID-19 pandemic, underscore the urgent need to address these gaps in the healthcare workforce.

IMG physicians have emerged as essential players in filling these gaps, particularly in underserved areas. By recognizing and supporting the work of IMG physicians, we’re not just addressing shortages in healthcare, we’re building a stronger and more inclusive system. 

Tools like CE Broker by Propelus can ease the management of licensure requirements for healthcare professionals and connect them to licensing boards through one nationwide platform.

Together, with IMGs and their supporters, we can ensure that everyone gets the care they need, no matter where or who they are.

Learn more about how CE Broker by Propelus helps professionals at