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22 percent of Oklahoma doctors trained in foreign countries, records show

by Andrew Knittle Modified: October 1, 2012 at 11:31 am •  Published: October 1, 2012

About 22 percent of the medical doctors licensed in Oklahoma received their professional training outside of the United States.

Whether this is good news or bad depends on where the doctors were born, at least according to a study released by a foundation that advocates for foreign-trained medical professionals.

The study, released by the Foundation for Advancement of International Medical Education and Research in late 2010, found that foreign-trained doctors are just as capable as their U.S.-trained counterparts.

But the study also draws attention to U.S.-born citizens who leave the country to earn medical degrees abroad, suggesting that such doctors may provide inferior care to their patients.

In Oklahoma, there are 2,199 licensed medical doctors who received their medical training outside of the country, or 21.8 percent of all licensees.

Nationally, that figure is closer to 25 percent, the foundation's study shows.

Lyle Kelsey, executive director of the Oklahoma Board of Medical Licensure and Supervision, said the number of foreign-trained medical doctors has never been an issue in Oklahoma.

Kelsey agreed with the study's assertion that medical doctors trained outside of the U.S. are just as capable as their counterparts who graduated from American universities. He also said that doctors have to pass a rigorous, three-phase exam before being granted a medical license in Oklahoma.

“When we looked through the complaints and disciplinary actions over the years ... it seems like the same kind of percentage ... as far as the number of U.S.-trained doctors versus foreign ones,” Kelsey said.

Indeed, the board's records show that doctors trained abroad have disproportionately fewer complaints filed against them than doctors trained in the U.S.

In 2010 and 2011, the licensure board took disciplinary action against 48 medical doctors, for a variety of reasons. Eight of those doctors — or 16.7 percent — were educated outside of the country.

Kelsey also believes the number of doctors trained outside the U.S. will increase due to an ongoing doctor shortage, both in Oklahoma and nationwide.

“It's probably more of a doctor maldistribution. We have more doctors in Tulsa and Oklahoma City because of the training available, the fact that they're metropolitan areas and the fact that they're more attractive to families because of the activities available,” he said. “But we do have a per capita doctor shortage, based on the national averages.”

That “maldistribution” is evident by looking at where doctors live and work.

Oklahoma County has a medical doctor for every 264 residents, the highest concentration of doctors among the state's 77 counties, according to licensure board data. Tulsa County has a doctor for every 359 residents, the second- highest concentration.

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by Andrew Knittle
Investigative Reporter
Andrew Knittle has covered state water issues, tribal concerns and major criminal proceedings during his career as an Oklahoma journalist. He has won reporting awards from the state's Associated Press bureau and prides himself on finding a real...
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