NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


June 28, 2004

Recently the federal Council on Graduate Medical Education acknowledged that the United States may be at risk of a physician shortage in the coming years. Although the number of physicians has been increasing at rates double the population growth, many communities continue to experience a shortage of available physicians.

Increasingly, the United States depends on foreign medical graduates to bolster the U.S. physician workforce:

  • International medical graduates account for a quarter of the 853,187 physicians in the United States.
  • This represents an increase of 160 percent since 1965.
  • Immigrant physicians also account for 27 percent of the 96,937 medical residents in the United States.

Foreign-trained physicians often find their new role in the U.S. health care system confusing. Relations with other physicians can be different than they are used to. Physicians who have practiced abroad report that U.S. patients have higher expectations of their doctors' availability and the services to be provided than typically found abroad. For instance, patients in the United States generally receive their care in semi-private (or private) rooms unlike the communal care wards found in Europe and Asia.

Moreover, medical care in the United States has a strong emphasis on evidence-based medicine and use of technology. Personal style and traditional approaches receive less respect. Both patients and their foreign-trained doctors often report that language barriers can also be frustrating.

Foreign medical graduates are an important component of the U.S. health care system. Initiatives that encourage greater participation in clinical and research benefit the health care system and patients alike, say observers.

Source: Graham T. McMahon, "Coming to America -- International Medical Graduates in the United States," New England Journal of Medicine, June 10, 2004.


Browse more articles on Health Issues