Globetrotting medicine

June 18, 2010

A growing number of U.S. primary care doctors are taking locum tenens positions overseas.

Key Points

Ever since he was a child, Raymond Lewandowski III, MD, had been intrigued by Australia. "It's the other side of the world, and there's this exotic ambience about it. It's just a place I've always wanted to go," he says.

AN INTERNATIONAL PERSPECTIVE

"The combination of an aging physician population and an aging overall population has created a huge demand worldwide," says Alan Lakomski, chief operating officer for Global Medical. "And the problem is growing."

The World Health Organization estimates that 57 countries throughout Africa and Asia face extreme healthcare staffing shortages. The agency reports that 2.4 million more providers would be required to fill that gap. The reasons behind the shortage range from lack of educational institutions to physicians aging out of the practice environment.

In the case of Australia, an aging general population needs more extensive medical services while the physician population also ages. Particularly hard hit hard are general practitioners (GPs). The Medical Journal of Australia reported in July 2009 that nearly two-thirds of Western Australia's GPs plan to retire before age 65. Those retirements will further complicate the country's shortage because only about one-fourth of its medical graduates say they plan to enter general practice.

As a result, Australia has a history of welcoming foreign-trained physicians. In 2004, its health minister publicly stated that its policy of encouraging overseas doctors to work in Australia would continue. A 2006 study showed that 48 percent of the country's medical practitioners had trained overseas.

GROWING INTEREST

Although industry-wide statistics are not widely available, staffing representatives report a steady increase in international locum tenens work among their clients. "Our business is growing considerably," says Robin Shapiro, scheduling director for VISTA Staffing Solutions' international division, also based in Salt Lake City.

Much of the increase in interest comes from word of mouth. "I hear all the time, 'My friend just came back from overseas and had a great time,' " she says. "I recently heard from a woman expressing interest after she talked to someone we placed in New Zealand in 2005. So, clearly, it's an experience people continue to talk about."