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Soc Sci Med. 2000 Jan;50(2):185-202.

Variations in geographical distribution of foreign and domestically trained physicians in the United States: 'safety nets' or 'surplus exacerbation'?

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Department of Health Administration, School of Allied Health Professions, Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond 23298, USA.


In the United States, a debate has existed for decades about whether foreign-trained physicians (known in the US as 'international medical graduates' or 'IMGs') and US medical graduates (USMGs) have been differentially distributed such that IMGs were more likely to be found in locales characterized as high in need or medical underservice. This 'safety net' hypothesis has been countered by the IMG 'surplus exacerbation' argument that IMGs have simply swelled an already abundant supply of physicians without any disproportionate service to areas in need. Through an analysis of the American Medical Association Physician Masterfile and the Area Resource File, we classified post-resident IMGs and USMGs into low and high need counties in each of the US states, compared the percentage distributions, and determined whether IMGs were found disproportionately in high need or underserved counties. Using four measures (infant mortality rate, socio-economic status, proportion non-white population, and rural county designation), we show that there were consistently more states having IMG disproportions than USMG disproportions. The magnitude of the differences was greater for IMGs than for USMGs, and there was a correlation between IMG disproportions and low doctor/100,000 population ratios. These findings are shown to exist simultaneously with two empirical facts: first, not all IMGs were located in high new or underserved counties; second, IMGs were more likely than USMGs to be located in states with a large number of physicians. The juxtaposition of an IMG presence in 'safety net' locales and of IMGs' contribution to a physician abundance is discussed within the context of the current debate about a US physician 'surplus' and initiatives to reduce the number of IMGs in residency training.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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