Twenty-five percent of the U.S. physician workforce is made up of international medical graduates (IMGs), a growing proportion of whom (27% in 2005) are U.S. citizens. Most IMGs graduate from “offshore medical schools” (OMSs), for-profit institutions primarily located in the Caribbean region and established to train U.S. students who will return home to practice medicine. Following the recent call for a larger physician workforce, OMSs rapidly increased in number. Unlike U.S. schools, which must be accredited by the Liaison Committee on Medical Education, OMSs are recognized by their home countries and may not be subject to a rigorous accreditation process. Although gaps in specific data exist, a closer look at OMSs reveals that most enroll three groups of students per year, and many educate students initially at “offshore campuses” and later at clinical sites in the United States. Students from some OMSs are eligible for the U.S. Federal Family Education Loan Program. The lack of uniform data on OMSs is problematic for state medical boards, which struggle to assess the quality of the medical education offered at any one school and which, in some cases, disapprove a school. With the United States' continued reliance on IMGs to meet its health needs, the public and the profession will be best served by knowing more about medical education outside of the United States. Review of medical education in OMSs whose graduates will become part of U.S. health care delivery is timely as the United States reforms its health-care-delivery system.
Dr. Eckhert is director, Academic Programs, Partners Harvard Medical International, Boston, Massachusetts.
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