The future of primary care depends on foreign-trained doctors

By Fred Jacobs
July 10, 2018

The United States and Canada lack enough primary care doctors. And those shortages are expected to get worse in the near future. Both nations will need to turn to international medical graduates to ensure citizens can access timely medical care.

In the United States, nearly 85 million people already live in an area that is short on primary care doctors.[1]

That figure will skyrocket as the country’s demand for doctors grows. From now until 2030, the population will increase by nearly 11 percent, according to a report from the Association of American Medical Colleges. The number of people over age 65 will surge 50 percent.[2] Consequently, the United States will be short up to 49,300 primary care physicians by 2030.[3]

Canada faces a similar dilemma. In British Columbia, 15 percent of residents — about 700,000 people — don’t have a regular family physician.[4] In Ontario, one million adults and 130,000 children don’t have one.[5]

The situation will worsen as doctors retire en masse. Two in ten Canadian physicians will be older than 65 by 2026.[6] And only about a quarter of new medical students are interested in family medicine.[7] That’s alarming — the country needs about half of physicians to go into the practice to sustain its workforce.[8]

Fortunately, a special crop of doctors is poised to help. International medical graduates are more likely to enter primary care than their domestically trained peers. In the United States, 41 percent of IMGs practice in primary care.[9] In Canada, about four in ten IMGs choose primary care.[10]

Here at St. George’s, we encourage students to pursue primary care. About 75 percent of our students choose a career in the field.[11]

The United States and Canada need far more primary care doctors. IMGs strive to serve in their own communities — and many of them are U.S. citizens who want to return home to practice and improve all Americans’ access to quality care. The solution lies with these future doctors.

 

[1] https://www.kff.org/other/state-indicator/primary-care-health-professional-shortage-areas-hpsas/?currentTimeframe=0&sortModel=%7B%22colId%22:%22Location%22,%22sort%22:%22asc%22%7D

[2] https://news.aamc.org/press-releases/article/workforce_report_shortage_04112018/

[3] https://news.aamc.org/press-releases/article/workforce_report_shortage_04112018/

[4] https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/bc-doctor-shortage-medical-fees-1.4100251

[5] https://www.newswire.ca/news-releases/fixing-doctor-shortage-must-be-top-priority-for-provincial-government-534459171.html

[6] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3263998/

[7] https://www.researchgate.net/publication/318056760_Physician_Shortage_in_Canada_A_Review_of_Contributing_Factors; page 70

[8] https://www.huffingtonpost.ca/sohail-gandhi/ontario-doctor-shortage_b_17023436.html

[9] http://jaoa.org/article.aspx?articleid=2213422

[10] http://www.old.cfms.org/attachments/article/1370/BACKGROUNDER%20-%20IMGs%20AND%20THE%20CANADIAN%20HEALTHCARE%20SYSTEM.pdf

[11] http://www.sgu.edu/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/som-catalogue.pdf

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