Underserved Communities Need International Medical Graduates

By Dr. G. Richard Olds, President of St. George's University
October 6, 2018

The United States could be short up to 120,000 physicians — including 50,000 primary care doctors — by 2030.[1] The shortage will be most severe in low-income, rural, and already-underserved regions.

Thankfully, there’s a solution. International medical graduates are uniquely suited to fill these gaps in the doctor workforce — more so than their domestically trained counterparts. It’s time we welcome more of them.

Many people are already struggling to access doctors. More than 84 million Americans live in an area that is short on primary care physicians, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.[2]

Certain regions are worse-off than others. Twenty percent of Americans live in rural areas — yet less than one in ten doctors practices there.[3] And nearly a third of the nation’s health professional shortage areas are in America’s inner cities, but many doctors prefer to work in affluent regions rather than high-need, low-income ones.[4]

This shortage will worsen as the U.S. population grows and ages. The population is set to increase by 11 percent over the next decade.[5] Those over the age of 65 — the demographic most in need of regular medical attention — will increase by 50 percent.[6]

Our doctors are aging too. One third of practicing physicians will be over the age of 65 by 2030 — and well on their way to retirement.[7]

That’s where international medical graduates can step in. These doctors account for roughly one quarter of practicing doctors.[8] But in areas where per-capita income falls below $15,000 annually, more than 40 percent of doctors were trained at international medical schools. And in regions with high minority populations, more than a third of doctors are IMGs.[9]

They also often serve in primary care. IMGs are roughly twice as likely as their domestic counterparts to enter this field.[10]

St. George’s is already helping plug the gaps in the U.S. workforce. Combining the past eight years, we’re the number one supplier of doctors into first-year residencies. This year, we sent more than 930 grads into residency programs. And three-quarters of our graduates go into primary care.[11]

IMGs play a key role in the U.S. doctor workforce — particularly in communities that need it most. We must embrace them. 


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

[2] 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

[3] https://www.merritthawkins.com/news-and-insights/blog/lifestyle/ten-statistics-and-trends-about-physician-shortage/

[4] https://www.merritthawkins.com/news-and-insights/blog/lifestyle/ten-statistics-and-trends-about-physician-shortage/

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

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

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

[8] https://www.americanimmigrationcouncil.org/sites/default/files/research/foreign-trained_doctors_are_critical_to_serving_many_us_communities.pdf

[9] https://www.americanimmigrationcouncil.org/research/foreign-trained-doctors-are-critical-serving-many-us-communities

[10] http://www.nrmp.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/Main-Match-Result-and-Data-2018.pdf

[11] https://www.sgu.edu/academic-programs/school-of-medicine/

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