Foreign-born doctors performed as well as doctors educated in the United States in treating patients with congestive heart failure, according to a new study.

The study published today in the August issue of the journal Health Affairs observed 244,153 hospital records coded for heart failure and myocardial infarction from 2003 to 2006.

The retrospective observational analysis involved 6,113 attending physicians categorized into three groups: physicians trained at a medical school in the US (71%), foreign born doctors who trained outside the US (23%), or Americans who trained overseas (7%).

The study found that "patients of non-US citizen international graduates had the lowest mortality levels, and patients of US-citizen international graduates had the highest."

The death rate among patients were 9% when treated by foreign trained doctors, 16% when treated by doctors trained in the US.

The study’s findings are consistent with results of medical board examinations showing that foreign trained doctors scored as well as other doctors, wrote the first author John J. Norcini, president of the Foundation for Advancement of International Medical Education and Research, in Philadelphia.

The authors wrote that they found a correlation between length of time since graduating from medical school and increased mortality among patients. "Each additional year since graduation was associated with a 0.58% increase in the mortality of physician’s patients," the authors wrote.

Limitations on the size of medical schools and the creation of no new ones over three decades have resulted in a shortage of doctors in the US.
"These findings bring attention to foreign-trained doctors and the valuable role they have played in responding to the nation's physician shortage," Norcini said.

"It is reassuring to know that patients of these doctors receive the same quality of care that they would receive from a physician trained in the United States."

"Ongoing training programs and periodic reassessment of doctors' knowledge and skills can help maintain the level of physician competence needed to deliver high quality health care," Norcini added.