Letters: Importing Foreign Doctors

Melissa Block reads emails from listeners about the U.S. importing foreign doctors and corrects the name of a victim we misidentified in a follow-up to the investigation surrounding ex-LAPD officer Christopher Dorner.

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And it's time now for your letters. First, a correction.

Yesterday we reported on the investigation surrounding ex-LAPD officer Christopher Dorner. And in that report, we misidentified one of his alleged victims. It was Monica Quan who was shot, along with her boyfriend, near her home in Orange County, not Michelle Kwan, as we said.

We regret the error.

To your letters now about a recent story from our Planet Money Team. It looked at how difficult it is for foreign doctors to get certified to work in the U.S. In that story, economist Dean Baker suggested that we should bring in more foreign medical professionals, for the same reasons that we import cheap T-shirts.

DEAN BAKER: We should think of doctors the same way we think of the shirts - that, you know, if we can get doctors for a lower from elsewhere in the world, then we can save enormous amounts of money.

BLOCK: Well, James Gaensbauer(ph) of Denver didn't like what he heard. He writes: Just two days after I pledged to my local NPR station much more than I can really afford given the burden of debt incurred in medical school, I was dismayed and insulted to listen to your report suggesting that putting a foreign doctor on every corner would somehow reduce the cost of medical care in the U.S., akin to importing cheap T-shirts to lower the price here. This analogy is demeaning to both foreign and American doctors.

And Gaensbauer concludes: I don't understand why this report needed to link an important discussion about the systemic barriers to foreign doctors with an insulting metaphor and naive conclusions about medical costs.

Jackie Messa(ph), also of Denver, makes another point about costs. She writes this: Many physicians who've trained in other countries pay no medical school tuition, while U.S. graduates assume hundreds of thousands of dollars in educational loans and interest. It is therefore erroneous to compare only the salaries of doctors from the U.S. and other countries without recognizing the disparity in debt for the two groups. This line of reasoning could lead to the faulty conclusion that U.S. physicians are not worth what they are earning.

And Johanna Crane(ph) of Seattle writes: As a medical anthropologist who studies global health, I was dismayed by this story. It completely fails to mention the most important consequence of America's importation of foreign doctors, which is our contribution to the so-called brain drain of medical professionals out of poor countries in the global south. Many low-income countries in Africa, for example, have severe shortages of doctors.

We appreciate your comments. Please send them to us at NPR.org and click on Contact Us.

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