NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


December 19, 2005

Since the 1970s, the number of foreign doctors in the United States has increased, and when spots in medical centers open, those doctors recruit friends and family in their homelands to fill them. But why are we so reliant on foreign doctors, asks Norman Wall of the New York Times.

The problem stems from an unsatisfied demand for doctors, says Wall:

  • Since 1980, the annual number of medical school graduates has remained constant despite a population growth of 50 million and only one new medical school has been opened.
  • As baby boomers reach retirement, the shortage of doctors will only grow worse, creating even greater demand for doctors from Africa, Asia and the Caribbean.
  • American medical schools have long limited enrollment, thanks in part to a deeply ingrained elitism; though they no longer exclude groups like Jews and Italian-Americans, there remains a strong bias in favor of training an elite few for research instead of rank-and-file general practitioners.

So, what can be done to reverse this situation?

  • Create more places in American medical schools; there is not a medical school in America that cannot increase its enrollment without lowering its standards.
  • Open more medical schools; there are only 125 schools for 300 million people, and with more private support, new schools geared toward training general practitioners would increase the supply of American-trained doctors at a relatively low cost.
  • The United States should invest in training doctors and building hospitals overseas, particularly in Africa and Asia.
  • The World Health Organization (WHO) should augment the meager pay doctors and health care workers receive in the developing nations so they have a respectable salary.

By taking these steps, and more, we can provide the incentives and encouragement for doctors to remain where they are most needed, says Wall.

Source: Norman M. Wall, "Stealing From the Poor to Care for the Rich," New York Times, December 14, 2005.

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