Nearly 25 per cent of doctors practising in Australia were trained overseas. Complaint levels to medical boards are higher for doctors who studied outside Australia, but the odds of complaint vary widely depending on their country of origin.
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A study published in the Medical Journal of Australia today analysed 5000 complaints against doctors in Victoria and Western Australia between 2001 and 2010. The study found that overseas-trained doctors were 24 per cent more likely to attract complaints, and 41 per cent more likely to have adverse disciplinary findings.
Given that only two states were covered, more research would be needed to confirm if this pattern was widespread and to identify potential causes. It’s worth noting that the pattern wasn’t universal: doctors from seven countries (Nigeria, Egypt, Poland, Russia, Pakistan, the Philippines and India) were more likely to cause complaints than their Australian-trained counterparts, but for 13 other countries represented in the study, there was no difference. (There were no obvious correlations with English-language skills, by the way.)
The paper’s authors point out that orientation programs for newly-arrived doctors are often minimal, with a quarter receiving no orientation training at all. It seems unlikely Australia will be able to supply all its medical needs from its own population in the medium term, especially in rural areas, so it’s clear we need to do a better job of integrating overseas doctors into our system.