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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Discrimination against international medical graduates in the United States residency program selection process

Norman A Desbiens1* and Humberto J Vidaillet2

Author Affiliations

1 12301 Creek Hollow Lane, Soddy Daisy, Tennessee, USA

2 Marshfield Clinic Research Foundation, 1000 N. Oak Avenue, Marshfield Wisconsin, USA

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BMC Medical Education 2010, 10:5  doi:10.1186/1472-6920-10-5

Published: 25 January 2010



Available evidence suggests that international medical graduates have improved the availability of U.S. health care while maintaining academic standards. We wondered whether studies had been conducted to address how international graduates were treated in the post-graduate selection process compared to U.S. graduates.


We conducted a Medline search for research on the selection process.


Two studies provide strong evidence that psychiatry and family practice programs respond to identical requests for applications at least 80% more often for U.S. medical graduates than for international graduates. In a third study, a survey of surgical program directors, over 70% perceived that there was discrimination against international graduates in the selection process.


There is sufficient evidence to support action against discrimination in the selection process. Medical organizations should publish explicit proscriptions of discrimination against international medical graduates (as the American Psychiatric Association has done) and promote them in diversity statements. They should develop uniform and transparent policies for program directors to use to select applicants that minimize the possibility of non-academic discrimination, and the accreditation organization should monitor whether it is occurring. Whether there should be protectionism for U.S. graduates or whether post-graduate medical education should be an unfettered meritocracy needs to be openly discussed by medicine and society.