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A Global Health Issue: America’s Health Workforce & Countries Without Doctors

September 17, 2012

By Vanessa Radatus

Does recruiting imported physicians create more problems than solutions?

The New York Times issued an Op-ed article last week that brings both good and bad news about our current healthcare employment dilemma. While jobs in the health care sector have increased by more than 1.2 million this year, there seems to be an imbalance in our medical education model and the number of foreign physicians we import.

The article “America’s Health Worker Mismatch” addresses the fact that despite increased demand for their graduates, medical schools have done little to expand their output and therefore must turn away hundreds of thousands of qualified medical school applicants. What’s more, our medical school tuition costs have increased by 312 percent in the past 20 years and some health specialties have raised the bar for education credentials – meaning more years of school, higher attrition rates, higher debt, higher wage demands and fewer workers from low-income areas.

The author of the op-ed, Kate Tulenko, is the senior director of health system innovation at IntraHealth International and author of “Insourced: How Importing Jobs Impacts the Healthcare Crisis Here and Abroad.” She explains that the United States dependence on foreign-trained health-care workers is creating a mismatch in our health care work force.

“It’s no surprise, then, that the response to this self-made labor shortage has been to recruit inexpensive workers from abroad, including the 57 poor countries defined by the World Health Organization as having significant shortages of their own. Among them is India, America’s largest source of foreign-trained doctors. A special visa program has made hiring these workers even easier… Today about 12 percent of the health work force is foreign-born and trained, including a quarter of all physicians…That’s bad for American workers, but even worse for the foreign workers’ home countries, including some of the world’s poorest and sickest, which could use these professionals at home.” Read More…

This trend is worrisome as most foreign-trained physicians applying to U.S. residency programs come from countries that are suffering a severe health service shortage. It raises the question: Does recruiting an imported physician workforce create more problems than solutions?


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