Report: Foreign Doctors Fill Gaps in Primary Care
Fewer U.S. physicians are focusing on primary care, but the decline is covered by foreign doctors practicing in the U.S., according to a General Accountability Office report, AP/Long Island Newsday reports. GAO presented the report to lawmakers at a Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee meeting on Tuesday.
The report compared primary care physician residency program data in the U.S. from 1995 to 2006 and found that the number of U.S. primary care physicians declined from 23,801 to 22,146 during that time period.
Meanwhile, the number of foreign medical school graduates training in primary care increased from 13,025 in 1995 to 15,565 in 2006, according to the report. The number of U.S. residents training as specialists increased from 45,300 in 1995 to 47,575 in 2006, and the number of international specialists increased from 11,957 to 12,611 during the same period, GAO found.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said that the overall increase in the number of PCPs in the U.S. "has been totally due to the number of international medical students." According to Sanders, one in four new physicians in the U.S. is a medical graduate from another country.
Sanders said, "We are increasingly dependent on international medical school graduates to meet our needs," adding, "There are simply not enough primary care providers, now and the situation will become far worse in the future unless we do something."
Sanders called on lawmakers to double the funds for the National Health Services Corps in 2009 to $250 million. The program offers scholarships to students who agree to practice primary care in underserved communities (AP/Long Island Newsday, 2/12).