Medical Schools in Region Fight Caribbean Flow
Maxine Hicks for The New York Times
feature from trusted NEW YORK TIMES
Dr. Janine Reinhardt, a graduate of a Caribbean medical school, is a resident at Stony Brook University Medical Center.
By ANEMONA HARTOCOLLIS
Published: December 22, 2010
For a generation, medical schools in the Caribbean have attracted thousands of American students to their tiny island havens by promising that during their third and fourth years, the students would get crucial training in United States hospitals, especially in New York State.
But in a fierce turf battle rooted in the growing pressures on the medical profession and academia, New York State’s 16 medical schools are attacking their foreign competitors. They have begun an aggressive campaign to persuade the State Board of Regents to make it harder, if not impossible, for foreign schools to use New York hospitals as extensions of their own campuses.
The changes, if approved, could put at least some of the Caribbean schools in jeopardy, their deans said, because their small islands lack the hospitals to provide the hands-on training that a doctor needs to be licensed in the United States.
The dispute also has far-reaching implications for medical education and the licensing of physicians across the country. More than 42,000 students apply to medical schools in the United States every year, and only about 18,600 matriculate, leaving some of those who are rejected to look to foreign schools. Graduates of foreign medical schools in the Caribbean and elsewhere constitute more than a quarter of the residents in United States hospitals.
With experts predicting a shortage of 90,000 doctors in the United States by 2020, the defenders of these schools say that they fill a need because their graduates are more likely than their American-trained peers to go into primary and family care, rather than into higher-paying specialties like surgery.
New York has been particularly affected by the influx because it trains more medical students and residents — fledgling doctors who have just graduated from medical school — than any other state. The New York medical school deans say that they want to expand their own enrollment to fill the looming shortage, but that their ability to do so is impeded by competition with the Caribbean schools for clinical training slots in New York hospitals.
Their argument is one that has been lobbed at Caribbean schools for decades: that those schools turn out poorly trained students who undercut the quality of training for their New York peers learning alongside them at the same hospitals.
And they complain that the biggest Caribbean schools, which are profit-making institutions, are essentially bribing New York hospitals by paying them millions of dollars to take their students. The American medical schools traditionally pay nothing, because hospitals like the prestige of being associated with universities.
“These are designed to be for-profit education mills to train students to pass the boards, which is all they need to get a license,” said Dr. Michael J. Reichgott, a professor at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx.
Charles Modica, chancellor of St. George’s University in Grenada, whose first class started studying in 1977, making it one of the oldest in the Caribbean, said the New York deans were simply afraid of competition.
“It’s basically a situation where the New York State deans just can’t hold their noses high enough up in the air, and I think it’s disgraceful,” said Mr. Modica, who founded St. George’s after he was rejected from medical school and went on to law school. Most Americans had never heard of the school until 1983, when President Reagan sent troops into Grenada, partly, he said, to rescue St. George’s American students from unrest.
The debate is so fraught that officials of Ross University, on the island of Dominica, were at first reluctant to talk about it, fearing students would be scared away from offshore schools.
“If the domestic schools felt we were taking opportunities away from their students, if they can specifically tell us what location we were taking them away from — that question was never answered,” said Dr. Nancy Perri, Ross’s chief academic officer.
The New York schools want the state to adopt the position of the American Medical Association, that “the core clinical curriculum of a foreign medical school should be provided by that school and that U.S. hospitals should not provide substitute core clinical experience.”