The U.S. faces a dearth of 20,400 primary care physicians by 2025, according to federal statistics. The Association of American Medical Colleges projects a shortage of thousands of surgeons and other specialists too. While an aging population and health insurance expansion increase demand for health care services, medical schools and residency programs aren't producing enough doctors to meet demand.
There are thousands of foreign-educated doctors living in the U.S. who have the expertise needed to address some of this growing need. Every year for the past decade, between 5,000 and 12,000 foreign-educated physicians who have passed their licensing exams apply for a residency position. Typically, about half get one, compared with more than 90 percent of U.S. medical school seniors who apply, according to data from the National Resident Matching Program.
International medical school graduates, like minority doctors, often go on to serve medically underserved populations. Graduates of international medical schools make up a quarter of U.S. office-based physicians, and are more likely than their U.S.-educated peers to treat minority patients, foreign-born patients, patients who speak little English and patients who qualify for Medicaid, according to a 2009 study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Demand for highly trained nurses is also growing, particularly for nurses who speak more than one language and reflect the growing diversity of the U.S. population. If highly trained professionals like nurse practitioners and physician assistants were to take on more primary care responsibilities, the shortage of primary care doctors could be cut by more than two-thirds, according to the Health Resources and Services administration.
FIU introduced its accelerated nursing degree program in 2000, in response to pressure from underemployed Cuban doctors living in the area. The FEP-BSN/MSN program began as a bachelor's degree program that prepared students to become registered nurses. In 2010, FIU added a master's degree, and graduates of the full program can now find work as nurse practitioners — an advanced role that can include prescribing medicine and diagnosing patients. In Florida, nurse practitioners earn about $86,800 per year. Barradas hopes to find work with an orthopedic surgeon.
Isabel Barradas (left) and Mariana Luque, trained and credentialed as physicians in their native Venezuela and Colombia respectively, are nursing students at Florida International University. (Sophie Quinton)The program compresses six years of education into four, mostly by moving quickly through undergraduate-level material. English language learners get help with reading and writing academic papers, and courses are scheduled in the evenings or compressed into one day a week to fit the needs of working adults. For the past few years, the graduation rate has been close to 100 percent.