KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Foreign Doctors Provide Care As Good As That Of Americans, Study Finds

Physicians trained in other countries provide care just as good as -- and perhaps better than some U.S. doctors, a report published in the journal Health Affairs found.

Reuters: "John Norcini, president of the Foundation for Advancement of International Medical Education and Research … led the study. [He and his] team analyzed 244,153 hospitalizations of patients with congestive heart failure or acute heart attack in Pennsylvania who were treated by either a U.S.-trained or foreign-trained doctor. Patients of foreign-born international medical graduates had the lowest death rates. Patients of U.S. citizens who attended medical school in other countries had the highest death rates. U.S.-born and trained doctors fell in the middle" (Fox, 8/3).

The New York Times: Graduates of foreign medical schools comprise about 25 percent of U.S. doctors. To practice in the United States, they must "pass a series of rigorous exams and complete residency training. … The authors of the study offered two possible reasons the Americans who went to foreign medical schools might not perform as well as doctors trained in the United States, or as well as foreign-born doctors. One is that many of the Americans who study medicine elsewhere do so because their grades and test scores were too low to get into medical school in the United States - so they may be less capable in the first place. Another possibility is that some of the overseas medical schools Americans attend may not be up to par. There is a doctor shortage in the United States, and foreign doctors have stepped into the breach, particularly in specialties like internal medicine and family practice, which many American students have turned away from in favor of more lucrative specialties like cardiology" (Grady, 8/3).

Bloomberg: "Even though foreign medical graduates produced good patient outcomes, according to this study, they may find it harder to get a post-graduate residency as U.S. medical schools have increased their class sizes while the federal government has failed to raise the number of training spots available. The number was capped in 1997 as a way to control spending on Medicare, the U.S. health plan for the elderly and disabled. Medicare helps fund post-graduate positions. The study also found that doctors who have been certified by a medical specialty board -- typically after completing post- graduate training -- have lower mortality rates than those who haven't been, regardless of nationality, Norcini said" (Wechsler, 8/3).

Chronicle of Higher Education: "Congress has recently taken increased notice of the training provided by foreign medical schools, passing legislation that requires schools to have at least 75 percent of their students who take a U.S. medical licensing examination pass the test, up from 60 percent under current law, for those students to remain eligible for federal student aid" (Li, 8/3).

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