The contribution of Chinese-educated physicians to health care in the United States

PLoS One. 2019 Apr 1;14(4):e0214378. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0214378. eCollection 2019.


Background: Migration of physicians has been a cause for global concern. In China, reforms of the higher education and healthcare systems have led to a shortage of postgraduate training positions relative to the number of medical graduates. Medical graduates opt for non-clinical roles or move abroad to pursue further training and practice opportunities. The impact of this physician migration is not known. This study quantifies where Chinese migrant physicians to the U.S. were educated, where they went to practice, and how these trends have changed over time.

Methods: We combined data on physician characteristics from the 2008 and 2017 American Medical Association Physician Masterfiles with demographic information from the Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates. Using a repeated cross-sectional approach, we reviewed the available data, including citizenship at entry to medical school, medical school attended, practice specialty, and practice location.

Results: The number of Chinese-educated physicians (CEPs) to the United States (US) has increased over the past 10 years, from 3,878 in 2008 to 5,355 in 2017 (+38.1%). The majority held Chinese citizenship at entry to medical school (98.4% vs 97.1%) with the remainder being citizens of other East Asian nations. Of the Chinese citizens identified in 2008, 913 (19.3%) attended medical school outside of China; in 2017, 376 (6.7%) attended medical school outside of China, representing a decrease of 58.8%. Overall, in 2017, four Chinese medical schools provided 32.1% of all Chinese-educated physicians in the US. Over 50% of the CEPs were practicing in Internal Medicine, Anatomic/ Clinical Pathology, Anesthesiology, Family Medicine or Neurology. Compared with all IMGs, CEPs are more likely to be Anatomic/ Clinical Pathologists and Anesthesiologists. CEPs were concentrated in several states, including New York, California and Massachusetts. In 2017, a lower proportion of CEPs in the US healthcare workforce were in residency training, compared to 2008 (13.2% vs 22.8%).

Conclusions: Unlike trends from some other South Asian countries, the number of CEPs in the US has increased over the past 10 years. Migration trends may vary depending on citizenship and country of medical school training. The majority of Chinese-educated graduates come to the US from relatively few medical schools. Fewer CEPs currently in residency training might indicate lower success rates in securing GME training in the US.

MeSH terms

  • American Medical Association*
  • China
  • Delivery of Health Care / statistics & numerical data*
  • Delivery of Health Care / trends
  • Education, Medical, Graduate / statistics & numerical data*
  • Education, Medical, Graduate / trends
  • Female
  • Foreign Medical Graduates
  • Human Migration / statistics & numerical data
  • Humans
  • Internal Medicine / statistics & numerical data
  • Internship and Residency
  • Male
  • Physicians / statistics & numerical data*
  • United States

Grant support

The authors received no specific funding for this work.