Vol. 143 March 1, 2016 What’s In A Name?

Hub thumbnail 2015


Few Americans recognize the contributions of IMGs (international medical graduates), or more broadly all foreign-born physicians, to U.S. healthcare.


Physicians born anytime in the 1930s – 1950s are more likely to have the surname Smith, but starting in the 1960s the U.S. saw an uptick in diversity, and in both the 1970s and 1980s, Patel topped this list as the most common last name among all physicians. Patel is now officially the last name most frequently preceded by “Dr.”

Rank 1930‑39 1940‑49 1950‑59 1960‑69 1970‑79 1980‑89
1 Smith Smith Smith Lee Patel Patel
2 Lee Lee Johnson Smith Lee Shah
3 Miller Miller Miller Johnson Kim Lee
4 Johnson Johnson Brown Patel Smith Smith
5 Kim Patel Williams Kim Nguyen Nguyen

This trend is likely to continue. Since the 1980s, the number of Asian American med school graduates has increased from almost none to making up approximately a fifth of all graduates . According to the 2014 census, foreign-born doctors now make up approximately 25 percent of all physicians practicing in the U.S.

Current medical student enrollment statistics reflect a similar mix.
Of 86,746 medical students in U.S. medical schools in 2015:

46,108 were men       (53%)
40,634 were women  (47%)
All: 54% white
.      20% Asian
.      8% multiple ethnicity
.      6% African-American/Black
      5% Hispanic
Only 2% of U.S medical students are “Non-U.S. Citizen or Non-Permanent Resident”

These figures confirm that most of the 25% practicing physicians that are “foreign-born” have come to the U.S. after non-U.S. medical school graduation for residency training and have stayed to practice. Foreign born physicians require a J-1 visa from the U.S. government to participate in our residency training programs. In 2011 65% of physicians with a J1 visa (foreign-born) were practicing primary care (internal medicine, pediatrics, and family medicine) compared to 28% of U.S. medical graduates.

The AMA has estimated that once the Obamacare “access to care” elements are fully implemented and as our older age demographic increases we will be about 90,000 physicians short of those needed to maintain optimal physician/population ratios. Much of that “physician shortage” will be in primary care. Interestingly the two most popular specialities for IMGs are Anesthesia and Psychiatry. One specialty does not require a lot of talking to patients. They are asleep most of the time. The other requires nothing but talking! Of course, the highest percentage of IMGs (20%) are from English-speaking India.

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