As a recent NY Times article points out, there are many doctors in this country that could help alleviate the current primary care doctor shortage but because they were trained in a foreign country, their credentials aren’t universally accepted by state medical boards in the US and they may be unable to pass the licensing exams that all US doctors must pass.
While they may not have a medical license in this country, it doesn’t mean they’re unqualified. They could be the greatest physician in the world – but it’s not documented. Similar to using the ACT or SAT to confirm students from across the country have the knowledge base necessary for college acceptance, there is the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) that confirms doctors from all US medical schools have the fundamental skill set to obtain a license. The test has 3 parts – typically taken 1) after the 2nd year of medical school, 2) during the 4th year of medical school and 3) during the first few years of their residency training program. So you can graduate medical school, have an MD behind your name, but until you pass all 3 parts of the USMLE, you aren’t a licensed physician and cannot practice in the US.
This isn’t meant to be punitive to foreign doctors because as I mentioned all US doctors must pass these tests. And even if they were practicing doctors in their native country, they are expected to go through the same gauntlet of training and testing that all US doctors have gone through. While it may be frustrating for these doctors to “start over” when they come to this country, it all comes back to confirming that everyone, regardless of race, creed, color or nation of origin has the basic knowledge necessary to become competent doctors. Sure the tests aren’t perfect predictors, but over time, these tests have evolved to become the best instruments we have in determining what fund of knowledge leads to potentially competent physicians.
I found one statistic particular interesting in the NY Times article. “Over the last five years, an average of 42.1 percent of foreign-trained immigrant physicians who applied for residencies through the national match system succeeded. That compares with an average match rate of 93.9 percent for seniors at America’s mainstream medical schools.” While 42.1% of acceptance by foreign doctors into US residency training programs is obviously less than the “match rate” for American medical school graduates, 42.1% is much higher than what I’d expect. That means that almost 1 of every 2 foreign medical doctors that applies for a US residency, gets in. Those are pretty good odds that we’re still getting the best of the best from around the world.
Unfortunately there are no shortcuts for any of us. And if you think there should be a shortcut, then you should also be willing to accept seeing a doctor, or be willing to send your parents to a doctor, that trained under questionable or unsubstantiated circumstances. It doesn’t mean they’re not good people (or a knowledgable doctor) like you and me, but it does mean you’re just not sure.