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Another Voice: Foreign students would ease doctor shortage

By G. Richard Olds

Imagine rushing to an emergency room and finding out that all the doctors are too busy to see you.  That nightmare is a reality for thousands of New Yorkers. In the past year, nearly three-quarters of emergency rooms across New York have had to turn away patients. The main reason? A statewide shortage of nearly 1,000 doctors.

Given this dangerous lack of physicians, it only makes sense for hospitals to welcome all qualified medical professionals – including foreign-trained doctors and medical students – willing to address this growing need. Yet some medical school administrators have been pressuring state officials to stop the flow of foreign medical students into New York.

This doesn’t make sense. Any effort to turn away doctors-in-training from state hospitals will only worsen a physician shortage.

The chief complaint among these medical school administrators has to do with the practice of paying for clinical rotations. These are the periods of hands-on hospital training that medical students receive in their final two years of schooling.

For state medical schools, hospitals usually offer these clerkship positions free of charge. But in recent years, foreign medical schools have been paying for their students’ clerkships.

That shouldn’t be surprising. After all, hospitals and their staffs provide a service for students – vital, on-the-job training.

But according to some medical school administrators, this practice gives foreign students an unfair advantage in the highly competitive process of landing a clerkship. So these administrators have asked the New York State Education Department Board of Regents to ban paid clerkships.

This request is at odds with patients’ needs. Physicians are in high demand across New York.

Foreign-trained doctors are already an invaluable part of the state’s health care system. The New York Health and Hospitals Corp. has partnered with my institution, St. George’s University on the Caribbean island of Grenada, to train hundreds of doctors over almost the past decade. More than 2,000 of our graduates practice medicine in New York City alone.

What’s more, nearly 40 percent of New York’s doctors studied at a foreign medical school. At medical schools in the Caribbean, most students are either American citizens or permanent residents. Most of them plan to return to the United States to practice medicine. It makes perfect sense for these students to do rotations in U.S. hospitals.

Demand for physicians is reaching crisis levels. State officials can’t afford to turn away qualified medical students who are eager to contribute to the health and well-being of New York patients.

G. Richard Olds, M.D., is president of St. George’s University in Grenada.