By Heidi Chumley, M.D.
If you notice it’s getting harder to see a doctor, it’s not your imagination. Among all the other changes in health care these days, one big force has been building for some time and is well-documented: We have a national physician shortage that is only getting worse.
By 2025, the shortfall could exceed 94,000. Exacerbating the problem is that many of those open spots are in primary care, the first and foundational resource for quality health care.
In New York, the need for primary care doctors is projected to reach 1,220 by 2030, according to the Healthcare Association of New York State. How do we fill the gap? The report identified some solutions – from increasing Medicare’s funding for residency positions and leveraging telehealth to recruiting diverse providers and educating students about the existing incentives to practice in underserved areas.
But the report omitted one critical source of new physicians – international medical schools that train U.S. citizens to practice medicine back home. Students at many of these schools start their academic training in the Caribbean but complete both their clinical training and their residencies at hospitals in the United States.
New York already has the country’s second-highest percentage (37.1) of active physicians who are trained internationally. The picture is similar here in town: At the University at Buffalo, 33 of its 42 family medicine residents were trained in the Caribbean.
Medical schools like mine, American University of the Caribbean School of Medicine (AUC), cater primarily to U.S. students who then return to practice in the United States, often in their home states. Though intelligent and qualified, these aspiring physicians often fall victim to the worryingly limited capacity of the American medical education system. But as international medical students, they pass the same board exams and meet the same criteria for residency and licensure as U.S. medical students.
Some U.S. medical school leaders worry about international graduates taking residency positions away from U.S. graduates. The fact is that graduates of Caribbean schools like AUC and Ross University School of Medicine are competitive, and residency directors recognize this. In addition, there is an ample supply of postgraduate training positions for new doctors from both U.S. and international schools.
AUC placed 69 graduates across New York State this year – 46 in primary care. Considering less than half (42 percent) of New York’s medical students from taxpayer-funded schools choose to stay and practice in the state, it’s clear that New York’s most basic health care needs would go unsatisfied without international medical graduates.
Heidi Chumley, M.D., is executive dean and chief academic officer of the American University of the Caribbean School of Medicine.