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However the study published in the Medical Journal of Australia today, found results differed markedly depending on country of training, according to lead author Ms Katie Elkin, from the School of Population Health and the Melbourne School of Law.
The researchers found doctors who qualified in Nigeria, Egypt, Poland, Russia, Pakistan, the Philippines and India had higher frequencies of complaints than Australian-trained doctors.
The numbers of international medical graduates (IMGs) in Australian clinical practice have grown and now account for nearly 25% of doctors.
Professor David Studdert, leader of the research group at the University of Melbourne said some high-profile cases featuring incompetent international graduates have ignited public concerns. “But there is very little hard evidence about whether the quality of care delivered by this large section of our national medical workforce is better or worse,” he said.
The researchers analysed more than 5000 complaints resolved by the medical boards in Victoria and Western Australia between 2001 and 2010.
“Overall, we found that international medical graduates had 24% higher odds of attracting complaints than Australian-trained doctors, and 41% higher odds of having adverse disciplinary findings made against them,” Ms. Elkin said.
“But the big differences were among international medical graduates themselves. For example, complaint rates against doctors trained in some countries were more than five times greater than complaint rates against doctors trained in other countries.”
The authors wrote that more research was needed to uncover the reasons for the intercountry differences.
“Findings from this study should provoke and inform discussion about more sophisticated approaches to regulating and supporting graduates”, the researchers concluded.
The data used in the study preceded the move to a national practitioner registration system.
“The move to national registration should expand opportunities for research of this kind,” said Ms Elkin.