Sep 28, 2023 - Business

Boston startup hopes to remedy the nursing shortage with international students

Illustration of a caduceus wearing a graduation cap.

Illustration: Allie Carl/Axios

While hospitals struggle with nursing shortages, a Massachusetts startup is preparing to train hundreds of foreign-born students to fill those roles.

Driving the news: Boston-based InSpring plans to admit its first cohort of 20-30 international students with bachelor's degrees in the U.S. and other countries this winter, co-founder and CEO Chris Hoehn-Saric tells Axios.

  • The group will enter an accelerated bachelor of nursing program at the MGH Institute of Health Professions, Mass General Brigham's graduate school.

Why it matters: The nationwide nursing shortage has hit Massachusetts hard. Nurse vacancy rates in the state's hospitals doubled from 6.4% in 2019 to 13.5% in 2022, according to the Health Policy Commission report published in March.

  • Industry leaders believe a national shortage will persist for years.

Threat level: Without enough staff, patients are receiving delayed care. Mental health patients, for example, have been waiting longer for hospital beds.

  • Others have had to wait more than a month to be transferred to skilled nursing facilities, per the report.

What they're saying: "We simply don't have the volume or diversity of a domestic labor force to solve for the demands that are happening over the next generation," Hoehn-Saric tells Axios.

  • "What we know now is that international students not only can do the work and want to do the work, they're historically underutilized."

Zoom in: Employers tend to overlook international job seekers because they're unfamiliar with the immigration process, says Hoehn-Saric, who previously worked for the international student recruiter Shorelight.

  • International student visas allow them to legally work for one to three years after graduation, depending on their specialty, but they typically need to be sponsored by an employer afterward.
  • If they don't find work and don't get sponsored in time, they have to return to their home country, making it harder to return for a job in the U.S.

The big picture: Massachusetts is one of several states where business leaders and advocates have urged the state to harness international talent to solve worker shortages.

  • Other companies have popped up in the U.S. to help place foreign-born workers in health care facilities, but InSpring is one of the few to help train prospective workers through university partnerships, Hoehn-Saric says.

How it works: InSpring will help place recruits in American nursing jobs and oversee their immigration paperwork. The startup also connects the cohort to lenders specializing in international students.

  • Once a recruit is hired full-time, InSpring charges their employer a one-time fee, separate from the nurse's salary.

What's next: The inaugural cohort will aim to take the nursing licensing exam in early 2025, though they can work as a nursing assistant or in other roles before securing their license, Hoehn-Saric says.

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