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José Ramón Fernández-Peña, MD, MPA, is President of the American Public Health Association. He is also Director of Health Professions Advising at Northwestern University, where he leads the university's efforts to support students interested in pursuing careers in the health sector.
Dr. Fernández-Peña is the Founder and Executive Director of the Welcome Back Initiative, a program to assist immigrant health professionals already living in the United States through the necessary steps to enter the U.S. health workforce. He has also advised the White House Domestic Policy Council on the economic integration of foreign-trained professionals.
Dr. Fernández-Peña earned his medical degree from the National Autonomous University of Mexico and his master’s degree in public administration from New York University.
The U.S. health-care workforce came under incredible strain during the COVID-19 pandemic. Longer-term trends—including the aging and increasing diversity of the U.S. population, and health-care worker retirement—are also shaping demand for services and the supply of health workers. This issue brief looks at how the skills and expertise of underutilized immigrant and refugee health professionals in the United States can be better leveraged to meet these challenges.
With the U.S. health-care system buckling under the resurgent COVID-19 outbreak, policymakers could undertake efforts to enable skilled, underemployed international health-care professionals to practice. This would both make the health system more resilient and flexible, as well as introduce critical language and cultural skills important during the contact-tracing and vaccine rollout phases of the pandemic response, as this commentary explores.