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Tennessee Leads the Way in Removing Barriers to Foreign Doctors

Jeffrey A. Singer

I have long been calling for states to make it easier for doctors who are licensed and experienced in other countries to serve patients in this country. States require such doctors to repeat their entire residency training in an accredited residency program in the United States—even if they have been practicing successfully for years in their home countries—and pass the standardized U.S. Medical Licensing Exam. These onerous requirements deprive state residents of competent care from experienced physicians, many of whom are unable to find residency positions or cannot afford to start all over again. Many end up working in other fields.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, some states—most notably New Jersey—temporarily relaxed those restrictions to allow foreign doctors to help improve access to needed medical care. In 2020, I moderated an online event discussing how states can and should make it permanently easier for such doctors to care for their residents.

In a Statement for the Record to the House Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on Immigration and Citizenship in February 2022, I recommended that state lawmakers reform their laws to make it easier for experienced foreign doctors to care for patients in their states. Many countries offer provisional licenses to foreign doctors and, after a period of supervision, grant them unrestricted licenses to practice medicine.

There is finally some good news on this front. Yesterday, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee signed HB 1312 into law. This new law grants provisional licenses to international medical graduates who have full licenses in good standing in other countries and pass the same standardized medical exams that U.S. medical graduates must pass. After two years of supervision by a Tennessee‐​licensed physician, they can receive unrestricted licenses.

Tennessee thus becomes the first state to break down barriers that prevent foreign doctors from helping address the worsening physician shortage in the United States. Yesterday the governor also signed into law a bill allowing medical school graduates who haven’t matched in residency programs to work as assistant physicians.

Tennessee’s latest legislative session took some good steps toward improving access to health care.

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