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Another Voice: International medical students are good for health care

By Fred M. Jacobs

New York is home to three of the country’s 20 best hospitals, according to a new analysis from U.S. News.

International medical schools often send third- and fourth-year students to these institutions to gain hands-on experience. That’s miffed many administrators at New York medical schools. They worry that students educated abroad take opportunities from their students.

These fears are baseless. There’s no shortage of training slots in New York. Further, many international students are American citizens who simply went abroad for medical school. Denying them training opportunities would prevent them from working in their home country and yield worse care for patients.

Most medical students complete a “clerkship” before they graduate. Clerkships allow students to apply the knowledge they’ve acquired in the classroom in the real world. Thousands of international students are completing their clinical clerkships in hospitals across New York.

The Medical Society of the State of New York has argued that local medical students are being “booted” from clerkships by international students. But a top official with the Associated Medical Schools of New York admitted that he didn’t know of any New York-educated students unable to secure clerkships because of international medical students.

Many “foreign” medical students who train in New York aren’t foreign at all. Two in three students at the school where I work, St. George’s University in Grenada, are U.S. citizens. Close to half of students attending Saba University in the Caribbean Netherlands are American.

New York medical schools also criticize international institutions for paying hospitals for clerkships. But there’s nothing wrong with that. Hospitals devote precious time and resources to educating these students. It’s reasonable that schools provide funding to help defray the cost of training them. Further, hospitals need the money.

St. George’s pays more than $12 million to NYC Health + Hospitals, New York City’s public hospital system, each year to cover the clerkship costs of up to 380 of its students.
Paid clerkships also ease the state’s primary care shortage. More than three-quarters of hospital systems surveyed by the Healthcare Association of New York State don’t have enough primary care doctors. By 2030, New York will need an additional 1,220 primary care providers.

International medical graduates are also more likely to enter primary care. Seventy percent of St. George’s graduates, for instance, go into primary care. Only one-quarter of students from U.S. schools do the same.

Clerkships for international students provide much-needed funding to New York hospitals and reduce the state’s doctor shortage – without disadvantaging students at local medical schools. The Empire State ought to welcome these aspiring doctors.

Fred M. Jacobs, M.D., J.D., is executive vice president of St. George’s University in Grenada. He is the former commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services.

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