Do International Medical Graduates Reduce Rural Physician Shortages?

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Abstract

Objectives.

The authors examined whether international medical graduates (IMGs) constitute a greater percentage of the US physician workforce in rural underserved areas than in rural non-underserved areas. Research findings could help policymakers determine whether the role of international medical graduates in compensating for local physician shortages counterbalances international medical graduates' potential for exacerbating a national oversupply.

Methods.

This research was based on data from the American Medical Association Physician Masterfile and the Bureau of Health Professions' Area Resource File. The authors calculated the percentage international medical graduates of all US primary care physicians in rural areas, stratified by the Health Professional Shortage Area (HPSA) designation of underservice.

Results.

The study showed that international medical graduates do constitute a greater percentage of US primary care physicians in rural areas with physician shortages than in rural areas without physician shortages. This finding held true at the national, Census region, and state scales of analysis, but to varying degrees. The finer the scale of analysis, the greater the variation in international medical graduates' practice in rural, underserved areas. There was substantial interstate variation in the extent to which international medical graduates practice in rural underserved areas.

Conclusions.

International medical graduates do help reduce rural physician shortages, but interstate variation points to the role of state policies in influencing international medical graduates' distribution in rural, underserved areas. Such variation also can come about from many different causes, so there is a need for further research to determine why international medical graduates help compensate for physician shortages more so in some states than in others.

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