Whether in need of a checkup or even if they are seriously ill, every year, millions of people struggle to find a physician. This is a growing problem, due to a very serious doctor shortage in the United States. Regrettably, for those Americans who lack sufficient access to doctors and medical care, legislation has been introduced in Congress that may make this situation worse. 

Known as the “The Foreign Medical School Accountability Fairness Act,” the bill discriminates against American citizens who want to attend foreign medical schools, regardless of the quality of those institutions. Provisions in the legislation would prevent hopeful doctors in this country from securing affordable student aid to attend many foreign medical schools. 

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In reality, the only beneficiaries of the legislation would be one special interest group: medical schools in the United States.  They are seeking to dominate the process by which Americans can become physicians, ignoring the severe physician shortage in this country. 

The Congress’ attempt to ensure that Americans who want to be doctors must train in the United States is shortsighted.  This is because according to the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) – an association representing medical schools in the United States -- the nation will face a shortage of between 46,000-90,000 physicians by 2025.  According to their recent study:  “within the overall projected physician shortage, the study estimates a shortage of 12,000-31,000 primary care physicians.”

The proposed law also fails to take into consideration an undeniable truth: there are not enough medical schools in the United States to train an adequate number of physicians needed to provide medical care.  Many talented and hard working Americans who have the calling to go into medicine simply cannot get accepted into medical schools in their own country. To become doctors, those individuals have to go abroad. 

While there are some medical schools outside the United States that are sub-standard, there are many schools that do a very good job of educating hopeful American doctors. This legislation will make it harder for Americans to attend the top-tier foreign medical schools that do a very good job of preparing their students to practice medicine.  This would mean fewer foreign trained doctors practicing medicine in the United States.

In Illinois, the home state of the bill’s author, Sen. Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinDems mull big changes after Brazile bombshell After Texas shooting, lawmakers question whether military has systemic reporting problem Bipartisan group of lawmakers aim to reform US sugar program MORE (D), the doctor shortage is particularly severe.  According to Kaiser Health News, in Illinois, between 25 and 29 percent of the population lives in an area with a primary care shortage.  In Louisiana, the home state of Sen. Bill Cassidy (R), the bill’s co-sponsor, more than 50 percent of people don't have enough access to primary care doctors.

According to the AAMC, over 30 percent of practicing physicians in Illinois attended a foreign medical school and in Louisiana almost 20 percent of practicing physicians are foreign medical school graduates. In other words, without these doctors and the schools, the people of Illinois and Louisiana would suffer from an even worse doctor shortage.   

Most foreign medical schools do a great job of preparing their students to practice in the United States. Many of those schools are located on islands in the Caribbean – in places like Dominica and Antigua. At those schools, over 80 percent of graduates pass their Board exams and become practicing doctors in the United States. Often times, their tuitions are considerably less than many American schools. At the University of Illinois—Chicago, out-of-state tuition is $72,422. That is almost double the cost of many Caribbean medical schools. 

These Caribbean schools also focus on educating minorities to become doctors.  This is critical, because American medical schools are failing miserably when it comes to educating minorities. In fact, according to the AAMC: “Although blacks and African-Americans comprise 13 percent of the nation, they account for only 4 percent of the physician workforce.”  Not surprisingly, the greatest shortages of doctors are in this country are typically in minority communities. 

I urge Congress to ignore special interest lobbying and look at real legislation that will increase opportunities for physicians, especially in high need areas. The health and wellbeing of millions of Americans could very well depend on it. 

Goldberg is the co-founder of the Center for Medicine in the Public Interest, a non-partisan organization promoting innovative solutions that advance medical progress.