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Home Publications Blogs Beat the Press Can Immigrants Be Doctors?

Can Immigrants Be Doctors?

Thursday, 17 June 2010 04:10

The Washington Post has an article on the looming doctor shortage in the United States and some modest measures by the Obama administration to counter the shortage. (According the article, the Obama administration's program will reduce the shortall by less than 0.25 percent.)

It is striking that the article, like most prior pieces on doctor shortages, includes no discussion of immigrants. This is exactly the sort of situation in which we would expect the country to turn to immigrant labor -- jobs that native born Americans apparently no longer want to do. There is no shortage of smart people in the developing world who would be willing to train to U.S. standards and work as doctors in the United States.

The gains to the U.S. would be so large that it could easily afford to repatriate enough money to the home countries so that they could train 2-3 doctors for every one who comes to the United States. This would ensure that the health care systems in the developing countries benefit from this program as well. Unfortunately, since protectionists so completely dominate policy debates in the United States, the idea of increasing the number of foreign trained doctors is rarely raised.

Comments (5)Add Comment
written by izzatzo, June 17, 2010 8:27
Rand Paul would be proud. Finally, global competition has arrived for everyone, not just those whose jobs were outsourced to China. Now, due to free markets, the miracles of capitalism, the internet and remote robotic surgery, opthamology services are available to anyone at special equipped internet cafes around the globe.

This means half the opthamologists in the US will be unemployed overnight and the other half will experience a 50% cut in income. Thanks Mr Paul. We knew you could pull it off if you just got on the inside.

Stupid liberals.
written by Michelle Monroe, June 17, 2010 4:39
Another factor in the doctor shortage is the deliberate restriction of competition by medical schools. At one point I worked for a medical school admissions office, evaluating applicants. The school had roughly 105 slots for incoming students and 5,000 applications. Only a fraction of those who applied were interviewed and the school placed on a wait list at least as many qualified applicants as it admitted.

I believe other medical schools are in a similar position.

Medical schools could expand student numbers, train more doctors and either reduce tuition or prevent future tuition increases through improved economies of scale.

Of course, an increased supply of trained physicians might lead to lower salaries for doctors...
Changes will be slow, and not ...
written by Peter T, June 17, 2010 4:46
> ... half the opthamologists in the US will be unemployed overnight and the other half will experience a 50% cut in income.

Instead, physician's income would stagnate like for those exposed to foreign competition. Most Americans would still see their physicians, but the pressure on costs to the upside would be much smaller. By the way, "doctors" are already in the US in large numbers, just look in your average university's enginieering or science department or in the labs of larger company and you find many PhD's from foreign countries. It is just the medical and legal professions who managed to errect protectionists barriers to foreigners.
Protected Professions
written by Conor R, June 18, 2010 3:31
The fact is there is a massive influx of Foreign Doctors into the united states yearly -called International Medical Graduates. They have to complete residency here - and just over 1 in 4 residency slots in the US is FILLED by an IMG ("In 2007 there were 23,759 first-year residents and 6,795 of these slots were filled by international medical graduates, according to the AAMC." per http://www.managedcaremag.com/...rtage.html
When it comes to primary care (family practice, internal medicine, pediatrics), the number is much higher. Residency is tantamount to cheap labor, so that's not where the cost is invested. 4yrs Undergrad + 4 years medical school--> residency pays ~$44K/yr for 60-90hrs/wk work $10.00/hr - $13.00/hr
At least in Texas, medical school tuition is fantastically subsidized - we're told that approximately 2/3 of the cost of our education is picked up by State government. So can you imagine how much cheaper it is for our country/system to import an already-trained physicians.
I'm not saying there is not protectionism at play to limit the number of physicians working here (clearly this DOES go on). I would echo Michelle Monroe's point - there is AMPLE demand for amongst United States undergraduates for slots in medical schools - Competition is tough. Your comment about "jobs that native born Americans apparently no longer want to do" strikes me as VERY incorrect; there are AMERICAN students that want these residency slots - there's just not enough medical school slots opent to get them there. If we relied ONLY on medical school graduates to fill residencies, >1 in 4 would not be filled. Clearly it's not as simple a matter of the US blocking IMGs from coming to work here.
Further, I would bet that the brain drain effect is going to be worse than you would think, Dean. Because, what's to keep those foreign trained Physicians (who education resulted from these "repatriation" funds) from moving to work in the US?
Brain Drains
written by Luke Lea, June 26, 2010 12:22
Is it good to train highly educable people in poor countries to become doctors in the U.S.? Good for the poor countries I mean? The number of highly educable people in any society is limited, and this is especially so in poor countries in Africa and Latin America. To often immigration discussions ignore the effects on the countries from which immigrants come, which is strange if the motive is phlanthropic or humanitarian.

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About Beat the Press

Dean Baker is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, D.C. He is the author of several books, his latest being The End of Loser Liberalism: Making Markets Progressive. Read more about Dean.