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Studying Abroad Makes Better Doctors, Study Says

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Close to one-fourth of doctors practicing in the USA did their medical training abroad, and most patients hold this against them. There have been studies reporting that Americans tend to view doctors who studied out of the country less favorably than locally-trained ones.

But a new study debunks this view, reporting that foreign-trained doctors practicing in the United States actually had slightly better patient survival rates than their homegrown counterparts, TIME states.

Dr. Yusuke Tsugawa, research associate at the department of health policy and management at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and lead on the study, said,

Some patients are concerned about the quality of care from foreign-medical graduates. That is, I think, unfair without looking exactly at whether their performance is as good as the U.S. medical graduates.

Tsugawa and his team were the same researchers who found that patients under the care of female doctors received better care than those with male doctors. This time, they looked at over one million hospital admissions by adults aged 65 on Medicare from 2011 and 2014, and where their doctors had trained. The team adjusted for variables such as race and diagnosis to make sure the results were not skewed, and compared the two categories of physicians within the same hospital. They did the same across different hospitals.

In both cases, foreign-trained doctors led the way. Patients who were under foreign-trained doctors had a slightly lower death rate of 11.2%, compared to patients of American-trained doctors at 11.6%.

This may sound like a small difference, but the number translates to one out of every 250 patients saved.

In addition, the researchers found no difference in readmission rates between the two groups, and that doctors trained abroad had a slightly higher cost of care – around $47 per admission, which suggests a higher intensity in medical care.

Tsugawa explained, “We’re setting a really high bar for foreign trained doctors to come to the U.S. to practice. They have to pass three exams, which cost more than $3,000.” Medical school graduates from abroad have about a 50% chance of matching into a residency program in the USA, while those from American medical schools have a 90% match rate.

Also, international doctors have to their residency again in the USA, meaning that foreign-trained doctors practicing in the country are among the most competitive and best trained. They are more likely to serve rural areas, help in under-staffed medical facilities, and care for patients with more chronic conditions, too.

Tsugawa added, “What we found was that they are providing high-quality care and bringing value to the U.S. healthcare system. If we’re turning away high-quality doctors from outside the U.S., maybe we are compromising the quality of care.”

The study was published in The BMJ.

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