Caribbean-Trained Physicians: a Win-Win Situation

July 18, 2016

Caribbean medical schools have, unfortunately, a less than stellar reputation. There are many reasons for this stigma. However, as the United States and Canada face a shortage of physicians and fewer medical school graduates than available residencies, foreign-trained MDs can fill in the gap.

The Future of Medicine

An article published in the prestious New England Journal of Medicine provides some sobering numbers. Data from a study conducted by Dr. Fitzhugh Mullan, who has long had his finger on the pulse of trends in the medical workforce, indicates that the ratio of graduates to residencies is improving, but slowly. In 2024, there will be approximately 4,500 more slots than physicians to fill them. Even though competition for residencies will continue to increase, not only American-trained doctors but those educated in Caribbean medical schools are needed to reverse a serious trend.

Another study, released in 2015 by the Association of American Medical Colleges, bears out this trend. By 2025, the doctor deficiency will be between 46,000 and 90,000. (What is even more disturbing, ethnic groups in locations with a homogeneous population, such as Native Americans on South Dakota reservations, must often travel long distances to see doctors available at limited and inconvenient times.)

The AAMC report takes into consideration for the first time these factors: 21st-century innovations in medical care, new payment systems, and demographics. Not only will there be insufficient numbers of primary care physicians, there will be a lack of specialists. As baby boomers enter their golden years, this trend is disturbing for the implications it will have on the health care vital for seniors. What is more, because it takes at least twelve years to turn a premed student into a practicing physician, it is important to look to the future of health care to prevent a doctor shortage a decade down the road.

The Success of Caribbean Medical Education

And since America is an ethnically diverse nation, doctors who are members of different groups—or are well-trained in treating a variety of patients and sensitive to their cultural backgrounds—are a vital part of the medical community. Future physicians have a golden opportunity that would not otherwise be theirs, and which they may not enjoy again, to experience life and society not only outside their hometown but their home country.

Since they spend time observing local physicians in hospitals (that do not always have the state-of-the-art equipment found in their northern counterparts), these future doctors receive valuable lessons in treating ethnically diverse patients and hands-on medical care. Schools such as Caribbean Medical University organize health fairs to instill awareness of tropical health issues (so timely with the spread of the Zika virus). In addition, students gain first-hand geriatric experience in nursing homes as they work alongside nurses and social workers.

Accepting doctors educated in Caribbean medical schools on an equal footing with their American-trained counterparts is a win-win situation. These physicians have proven themselves to be qualified and successful health professionals in prestigious North American hospitals and, more importantly, in rural and other underserved locations where their expertise is even more vital.

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