INTERNATIONAL/PHYSICIANS: American doctors running off — to the UK!?

So I spent most of last week at two different conferences. One in Vegas was sponsored by a subsidiary of SAS Institute, Better Management, and was mostly about the application of data analysis to health care process redesign. The other was the American College of Emergency Physicians meeting (ACEP), where I spent my time checking out the state of IT use among Emergency Room docs. More on both those meetings later this week.

Meanwhile, the most surprising conversation that I had the whole week was in a booth for the NHS at the ACEP meeting — yup that NHS, as in the UK’s National Health Service. As I’ve reported from time to time in THCB, having not basically spent much money on its health service from 1945 to 1997, the UK in the second Tony Blair government has decided that it should spend a bit more. Some of this is going on IT, (much more on that here), and some of it is going on improving the overall quality of care in the system. But most of it is going to decrease the waiting times for elective surgery, including paying for people to go have surgery done in France and even elsewhere in Europe.

One major stumbling block is a lack of staff, as you can’t just turn on the pipe and get more British doctors. There are significant shortages in several specialties, hence the NHS has been recruiting abroad, paying relocation and housing for doctors prepared to take 2 year contract. So far they have recruited about 300 doctors, mostly Indian psychiatrists (as apparently that’s a very easy transition). However there are about another 1,200 doctors who have agreed to move to the UK, but haven’t got there yet. What blew me away was the fact that 300 of these are Americans. Note that these are American doctors moving to the UK to work at UK salaries, which are about less than half the average US level.

Now I know not having to pay for housing bumps up the pay level somewhat, but that’s still pretty flabbergasting. Apparently the type of doctor signing up is either one who’s hit a glass ceiling or one at the end of their career looking for a new adventure. American docs just out of residency struggling to pay off those loans will not find this too attractive.

Meanwhile the only special thing the immigrant doctors have to do to qualify for the program is to pass an English language test. Apparently male American doctors have been having trouble with the listening and comprehension part of the test, which (I was told) was something that didn’t surprise the female American doctors (who all passed that part of the test just fine, thankyou) at all!

Given the back and forth last year between me and Sydney at Medpundit about Canadian docs moving to America, I wonder what she’ll make of all this?

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