January 23, 2022

Caribbean medical schools ease doctor shortage

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SMU CayBy former Rep. Ronnie Shows (D-Miss.) From The Hill

I grew up, raised a family and spent most of my adult life in public service in South Mississippi. In my part of the country, most people lack access to wealth and influence, and struggle to cope with the difficulties of life.

Many of these difficulties are about a lack of access to healthcare.

I’ve had constituents tell me they cannot find a doctor. Or, that the doctor is so far away it would cost them a whole day of work just to get up and back, so they don’t go.

Doctor shortages aren’t just a phenomenon of the Deep South. Finding a physician – especially a general practitioner – is difficult even in Washington, DC. Around the nation, many general practitioners refuse to take new patients. Or, these doctors add on surcharges, such as a concierge fee of $2000 – $3000 a year, just for the right to be their patient.

The simple fact is we need to get more doctors in this country.

One reason we don’t have enough doctors in the United States? There are not enough American medical schools. The schools have small class sizes and reject many talented students. Every year, thousands of hopeful doctors – with both good grades and exam scores — are turned away.

I believe as a nation built on self-sufficiency and hard work; we should do everything we can to help Americans who want to be doctors find opportunities to practice in the United States. And rather than only importing medical talent from other countries, we should concentrate efforts on educating Americans who want to be doctors.

The good news is that today, many aspiring doctors who failed to gain entrance into an American medical school, are now pursuing degrees at medical schools located in the Caribbean. Students from some of these Caribbean schools also work alongside their peers — in clerkships and internships — at top medical schools in the United States.

One such school, the American University of Antigua (AUA) has helped hundreds of Americans become licensed physicians who practice all across the nation.   A recent study showed that patients treated by doctors trained abroad get equivalent care and outcomes as long as the doctor is board-certified.

Just because a medical school is in the Caribbean doesn’t mean it is inferior. In fact, in 2013, AUA students got medical residencies at some of this nation’s most prestigious hospitals including Duke University Medical Center and Loyola University Medical Center in Chicago.

Caribbean schools are generally also cost effective. Consider that, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), the average yearly private medical school tuition in the United States is $50,000. For out of state residents, public schools charge even more than that. On the other hand, AUA’s tuition is $33,000 dollars a year.

In 2013, a majority of graduates from Caribbean medical schools obtained residencies as general practitioners in: internal medicine, family practice, and obstetrics/gynecology. At the same time, many of students at the more elite medical schools in the United States chose to practice in the most profitable specializations. But right now, people in rural Mississippi and all across our country needs more general practitioners and Caribbean schools are helping to close that gap.

Despite the fact that these Caribbean schools are critical to reducing this nation’s doctor shortage, and even though there is no evidence that doctors trained at these schools provide sub-standard care, there are efforts in Washington to reign in Caribbean medical schools. I believe this is because some in Congress are reflexively suspicious of Caribbean schools since they are for-profit.

As our population ages and the Affordable Care Act expands healthcare access, we are going to need Caribbean medical schools to help ensure that we have enough qualified physicians. AAMC’s estimate is that by the end of the decade, America will need a 100,000 more doctors to adequately take care of everyone. My concern is that if our government takes any steps to make it harder to attend a Caribbean medical school, my former constituents back in Mississippi, who lack access to wealth and large cities, will be the ones who bear the full brunt of the doctor shortage.

For more on this story go to: http://thehill.com/blogs/congress-blog/healthcare/221413-caribbean-medical-schools-ease-doctor-shortage

IMAGE: St Matthews University Cayman Islands



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