ST. PAUL (Jan. 28, 2015) — Addressing barriers seen as key strategy for meeting primary care needs in rural and underserved areas. Minnesota’s population of immigrant physicians are an underused resource that could provide primary care where it is needed most, according to a recently released state task force report.
The Task Force on Foreign-Trained Physicians, convened in July 2014 at the request of the Minnesota Legislature, is calling for Minnesota to become a national leader in addressing barriers that prevent hundreds of experienced physicians from practicing. The task force found that creating pathways for these doctors to practice would enhance Minnesota’s primary care workforce by making it larger and more diverse. Such a workforce would help with increasingly urgent policy issues, such as a physician shortage, an aging population, persistent health disparities, the needs of a diversifying population, and mounting health costs.
In the most thorough examination of the issue by any state advisory body in the country, the 15-member task force issued the following findings and recommendations:
• Most of Minnesota’s largest immigrant and refugee communities are underrepresented in the state’s licensed physician workforce. The state has only eight Liberian-born physicians now licensed, while its Liberian community is the largest in the U.S.
• Minnesota is currently home to an estimated 250 to 400 unlicensed immigrant physicians. Most of these physicians are trained as primary care providers and bring a wealth of expertise, including fluency in multiple languages.
• Integrating more immigrant physicians could result in significant cost savings to the state, including expenses associated with preventable hospitalizations and chronic disease. One study suggests Minnesota could save over $63 million by tapping foreign-trained physicians to address shortages in areas designated as medically underserved.
• Immigrant physicians face significant barriers such as securing a medical residency, which is a necessary licensing step. Many residency programs require U.S.-based clinical experience and recent graduation from medical school. This effectively disqualifies the most experienced immigrant physicians who practiced extensively since graduating from medical school.
• These obstacles could be addressed with strategic, coordinated, public-private action. Key recommendations include creating a statewide council on immigrant physicians; encouraging residency programs to look beyond the date of medical school graduation; creating a Minnesota assessment of the clinical readiness of immigrant physicians; creating dedicated residency positions and apprenticeships in rural and underserved areas, and developing new licensure options for immigrant physicians.
“This task force has thought creatively about this problem and brought us feasible and groundbreaking strategies that could fortify our physician workforce for years to come,” said Minnesota Commissioner of Health Dr. Ed Ehlinger.
The task force included representatives from health care, higher education, community-based organizations, workforce development, finance and government, as well as foreign-trained physicians themselves. Dr. Edwin N. Bogonko of St. Francis Regional Medical Center, chaired the task force.
More information about the task force is available on the MDH website: http://www.health.state.mn.us/ divs/orhpc/workforce/iimg/ index.html.
The task force’s full report and recommendations are available at http://www.health.state.mn.us/ divs/orhpc/workforce/iimg/ finalrpt.pdf (PDF: 1747K/ 84 pages).