As our recent eight-nation bracket tournament showed, many people think the United States health care system has a lot of problems. So it seems reasonable to think of policy changes that make things better, not worse. Making it harder for immigrants to come here to practice medicine would fail that test.
The American system relies to a surprising extent on foreign medical graduates, most of whom are citizens of other countries when they arrive. By any objective standard, the United States trains far too few physicians to care for all the patients who need them. We rank toward the bottom of developed nations with respect to medical graduates per population.
When physicians graduate from medical school, they spend a number of years as residents. Although they have their degrees, we still require them to train further in the clinical environment to hone their skills. Residents are more than learners, though; they’re doctors. They fill a vital role in caring for patients in many hospitals across the country. We don’t have enough graduates even to fill residency slots. This means that we are reliant on physicians trained outside the country to fill the gap. A 2015 study found that almost a quarter of residents across all fields, and more than a third of residents in subspecialist programs, were foreign medical graduates.
Leaving training aside, foreign medical graduates are also responsible for a considerable share of physicians practicing independently today. About a quarter of all doctors in the United States are foreign medical graduates.
- New York Times