Physician Scarcity in the US
Over the past few years, the United States has received significant press over the lack of primary care physicians, which has caused wait times for medical services to skyrocket. This combined with the added residency programs throughout the country have left an open opportunity that many IMGS have taken advantage of. What has often been passed over is the growing need for specialists. Within a few years, a large amount of the population becoming older, there will be an unfounded need for surgeons, oncologists and other many other types of specialists.
In addition to the aging population, and increased longevity of life, the implementation of affordable health care programs and insurance offerings has increased the amount of patients that are seeing doctors on a regular basis.
Due to this expanded patient base and increasing shortage of practicing physicians, the United States has experienced prolonged wait times and shortened one on one time with a physician. A survey in 2014 revealed that doctor-patient interactions have decreased to an average of 20.8 minutes per patient. This clearly displays the workload of doctors currently in the field.
Medical Associations have tried to combat this predicted lack of practicing physicians by going to the United States government for the funding to expand residency positions across the country. By doing so, it will create even more opportunity for IMGs to break in the US medical field. Not only as a general practitioner, but it opens the door to many specialist fields that previously were almost unattainable for an IMG.
In the United States, there are two kinds of doctors; there are MDs, or Medical Doctors who practice allopathic medicine, and DOs, or Osteopathic Doctors. Allopathic medicine treats an ill patient differently than a patient who is healthy. An Osteopathic doctor is trained to take into account a patient’s diet & nutrition, environment and the body system as a whole during diagnosis. Both DO’s and MDs can practice medicine in all 50 states and can be found in all medical specialties; however there are a few differences between the two types of physicians. Most DO’s tend to practice in rural areas and tend to be primary care physicians, whereas MD’s tend to practice in more urban environments and have more specific medical specialties. Additionally, DO’s are required to take expanded training in order to learn manipulation techniques of the muskeloskeltial system, to be used for naturally relieving pain felt by patients. Another major difference between DO’s and MD’s is that MD’s take the USMLE’s; DO’s take a similar examination but it is the Comprehensive Medical Licensing Examination, or COMLEX.
Traditionally most physicians in the United States are MD’s, but over the past few years there has been noted rises in the amount of DO’s actively practicing. There are many reasons for this increase of DO’s in the United States, one is that many medical students are becoming aware that there is no discrepancy between MD and DO salaries, which was previously believed. With more research, it has been found that the higher average pay for MD’s is due to the amount of specialists, and the higher costs of living in the urban locations these physicians tend to practice in.
Another reason for the increase in DO’s is the competitiveness of the MD residency programs in the United States. For a DO, you can apply to an MD residency program, but most applicants would not be considered, unless this is for a primary care residency. There are also some DO residency programs, which are considered to be easier to get into then equivalent MD residencies. As an example, in 2013 for Osteopathic medical students, the average MCAT score of 26 and an overall GPA of 3.4; compared with an average MCAT of 31 and overall 3.69 GPA for allopathic students who matriculated.
In the coming years, the Accreditation Council of Graduate Medical Education, the accreditation body for allopathic residency programs, will start to accredit osteopathic programs. These additions of DO residency programs, and the growing lack of practicing physicians throughout the United States are creating a substantially increased demand, and much more opportunity for DO medical students to successfully become US practicing physicians.
AMGS, IMGs & US IMGs
Only 25% of the American medical workforce are IMGs, and the US residency match program is designed to be beneficial to American medical graduates, or AMGs, so as an IMG you will have to do more and work harder to become a practicing doctor in the United States.