By Theresa Pablos, DrBicuspid.com associate editor

December 4, 2018 -- The need for healthcare professionals is expected to grow as the U.S. population ages, so researchers explored the current field of U.S. health professions, including dentistry, and how country of origin and citizen status vary among them. Almost a quarter of U.S. dentists were born in other countries, they reported in a new research letter published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Overall, 16.6% of all health professionals were born outside of the U.S. in 2016. Dentistry had the third greatest percentage of health professionals born outside of the U.S., with the vast majority of immigrants coming from Asia.

"In a nationally representative sample, non-U.S.-born individuals and noncitizens comprised a significant proportion of many healthcare professions in 2016," wrote the authors, led by Yash Patel, who was a student at Princeton University at the time of writing and is now an analyst with the U.S. Congressional Budget Office (JAMA, December 4, 2018). "These proportions were notable not only among physicians, on which previously conducted studies have focused, but also among the majority of other healthcare occupations that are important for patient care."

Growing need for health professionals

The researchers were curious how many health professionals were born outside of the U.S. and its territories, especially because the need for health professionals is expected to grow as the U.S. population ages. To find out, they looked at nationally representative data from U.S. households.

Specifically, the researchers used data from the 2016 American Community Survey, an annual survey from the U.S. Census Bureau. The survey includes questions about participants' occupation and also their country of origin and citizen status.

U.S. dentists by country of origin
Country Percentage
U.S. 76.3%
Asia 14.1%
Europe 2.9%
Mexico, Central America, or the Caribbean 2.5%
South America 2.0%
Africa 1.4%
Canada 0.8%

In 2016, 23.7% of U.S. dentists were born in other countries, according to the analysis. Of those not born in the U.S., the vast majority immigrated from Asia, followed by Europe, Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean.

Comparatively, 16.6% of all health professionals were born outside the U.S. The percentage of foreign-born dentists was only surpassed by physicians (29%) and other health diagnosing and treating practitioners (31%).

However, dentists were also more likely to be U.S. citizens than many other health professionals. Only 3.9% of dentists were not U.S. citizens, lower than the averages of physicians (6.9%), dental assistants (5.5%), and other health diagnosing and treating practitioners (5.5%).

New look at the demographics

While the American Community Survey is a nationally representative sample of the U.S. population, the authors noted that there is a possibility of underreporting noncitizenship, a limitation that had been previously noted with the survey. Nevertheless, the research letter provides a new look at the demographics of current U.S. health professionals.

"As the U.S. population ages, there will be an increased need for many healthcare professionals, particularly those who provide personal care like home healthcare aides, a large proportion of whom are currently non-U.S. born," the authors concluded. "Limitations of this study include reliance on survey-reported occupation, the possibility of underreporting of noncitizenship by certain subgroups ... and lack of detailed physician specialty information."


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