US experts warn there won't be enough doctors to treat the millions of Americans newly insured under the new federal health care law. At current graduation and training rates, the US could face a shortage of 150,000 doctors in the next 15 years, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges.
“It has always been tough for South Asian medical students to come to the US mostly because of the visa restrictions, but if you are a good student and hard working, there are great opportunities to continue as a medical professional in the US after training,” points out Veeranna Merla, faculty member at the Columbia University Medical Center, in New York.
Medical students at Columbia University Medical Center
There is a pent-up, US demand for primary-care physicians and general practitioners, which include internists, family physicians and pediatricians. Doctors trained in other countries can find work in the US by filling the primary-care shortage but they must still complete a US residency in order to get a license to practice medicine, independently in the US. In the 2010 class of residents, some 13% of slots were filled by non-US citizens, reported “The Wall Street Journal.”
Veeranna Merla, faculty member at the Columbia University Medical Center, in New York says, the US offers good med students great opportunities and that the challenges posed by visa restrictions to foreign students can be overcome by hard work.
Merla was interviewed by Uttara Choudhury in New York. Here are excerpts from their discussion:
What prompted you to study medicine in the United States and where did you study?
I studied medicine in India, and came to the US in 1997 for further training. I did my residency in internal medicine at St Joseph's in Patterson New Jersey, and cardiology fellowship at St. Lukes-Roosevelt Hospital in New York.
Can you share your personal opinion on some of the top medical schools teaching cardiology in the US?
Cardiology is a sub-specialization, and some of the top schools offering this specialty include: Most major university centers and teaching hospitals. Some of the top programs are Columbia University; Mayo Clinic; Cleveland Clinic.
Today, Columbia ranks among the top 10 cardiology programs in the country. As a faculty member at the Columbia University Medical Center what advice do you have for medical school applicants?
Prospective students should be passionate about medicine and demonstrate commitment, compassion and hard work. Applicants should not only have ‘book knowledge’. It's important for them to be involved in extracurricular activities to help them become well-rounded and develop strong interpersonal communication skills.
How are cardiologists trained? After four years of medical school and three years of training in general internal medicine, does a cardiologist spend a minimum of three or more years in specialized training?
To train as a cardiologist, doctors will already have a license in internal medicine. Doctors interested in pursuing cardiology will focus on heart patients under the guidance of senior doctors and professors in that field. It is a minimum of 3 years training for general cardiology, then there is additional 1-2 additional years of training for super-specialties including; interventional cardiology; electrophysiology; heart failure; cardiac imaging.
How much has interest in cardiology as a career choice grown in recent years? And, is it a paying profession?
Cardiology is very competitive, and it is one of the most difficult sub-specialties to get into after Internal Medicine. Due to the high incidence and prevalence of heart disease, there is a lot of demand for cardiologists. It is a reasonably well paying profession.
A recent medical study showed that students prefer less demanding specialties than cardiac surgery that allow more time for family and personal life suggesting a potential shortage of heart surgeons unless training programs are restructured to encourage students to enter this career path. Is it very tough to balance a surgical career and personal life?
I am not a surgeon, but in general the surgical specialty is demanding. However, new rules have been implemented to limit the number of hours doctors can train during residency.
Is it relatively easy for South Asian medical students to come to the US to study and find rewarding jobs in the US medical profession?
It has always been difficult mostly because of the visa restrictions, but in general if you are a good student and hard working, there are great opportunities to continue as a medical professional in the US after training.