Plaza Voices: Doctors Across Borders

As the Supreme Court is poised to make a decision on the Trump Administration's so-called "travel ban," one affected group might surprise you: low-income Americans.

This is because foreign-trained doctors are more likely to serve Americans living in poverty. According to the Immigrant Doctor's Project, some 14 million appointments are provided annually by doctors from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen, six countries named in the original Executive Order preventing travel and immigration from majority-Muslim countries. While Sudan has since been removed from the ban, medical professionals from the other countries are still blocked.

Approximately one in four doctors in the United States received their medical training abroad, and the majority of them are not U.S. citizens. In areas with the highest poverty rates, that number rises to one in three. Immigrant doctors are also more likely to serve communities of color; in areas where the African American population is over 30%, about 28% of doctors are foreign-trained; where half the population is Latino, 36% of doctors are foreign-trained. Further, immigrant doctors make up fully one half of physicians specializing in treating the elderly.

Several studies have shown that immigrant doctors provide better care. Research published in the British Medical Journal showed that Medicare patients admitted to the hospital were less likely to die if their physician was trained abroad. The authors of the study have pointed out that since foreign-trained doctors are more likely to practice in rural areas with higher mortality rates and fewer resources, their patients' fatality rate should be higher than that of American-trained doctors, but in fact it is 5% lower. Immigrant doctors are also responsible for a significant share of teaching and research. Fifteen percent of full professors at domestic medical schools are foreign-born, and foreign doctors are responsible for about one fifth of academic medical scholarship.

Why are immigrant physicians more successful at treating vulnerable populations? They may have already completed residencies and licensing exams in their home countries, and must then repeat these requirements here--essentially doubling their experience and study. Further, only one-half of foreign-born applicants are accepted for residencies at U.S. hospitals, compared to 94% of U.S.-trained medical graduates. Those who make it are thought to be "the best of the best."

To learn more about the medical profession and medical trends here and abroad, check out our Health Research Resources. And share your experiences with us below!

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Written by Amma R. on May 6, 2018


Lily F. on May 9, 2018


This is interesting, thanks for posting. I've had mostly good experience with foreign-trained doctors, in fact I think they are more likely to identify and pick up on "3rd world" and tropical diseases that are rare in this country but seen often in their home countries... this happened to me. I was glad to have a foreign doc who had seen and treated my rare infectious disease in his home country. Other docs here were clueless about it.


Yes, that totally makes sense! Another person told me that she had a very compassionate doctor who put her at ease about her unusual condition, saying, "We see this all the time in my country." She was so reassured by his bedside manner and his range of experience.