Someone needs to do a study of the statistical differences in outcomes in medical malpractice lawsuits against foreign doctors and those born in the United States. I’m telling you, I might look at this in an unscientific way, but the difference just seems to jump off the pages at you. One in four doctors in the country are foreign born. From the search I just did, it seems like more than half of the million verdicts in medical malpractice cases were against foreign-born doctors. I have never noticed this or thought about it until about an hour ago.
Okay, so why is this? The first theory is that American colleges and medical schools are just better and they are putting out better doctors than those schooled abroad. I’m sure this is true to a point. But I’ll bet you if you thin sliced it further, you would find that the same non-American doctors who went to college and medical school here still perform worse at trial than American-born physicians.
What Is the Take Home Message?
This is a complicated issue that no one is talking about. I do not want to give a simple “this is the answer” post because it is too big a topic and I have provided no data to support any conclusion that I have. I generally think American-born doctors provide better care and communicate better than doctors born in foreign countries. I hate writing that veritable sentence. Because it is such a broad generalization. And I have no evidence. Some of the best doctors in America were born in a foreign country. Some of them have treated me. But just because a generalization has notable exceptions does not mean we should not offer our opinion on what is (as bad as I feel about it).
But there is something else more sinister here for verdicts against foreign-born doctors. Juries have prejudices. Many jurors don’t like foreign born doctors and they prejudge them. As plaintiffs’ malpractice lawyers, we benefit when suing a foreign-born doctor from these generalizations and prejudices against these doctors. I hate this. Because we deal with prejudices ourselves. Prejudices against our clients because of the way they look or where they are from. Prejudices against us as lawyers because we are lawyers and because we are plaintiffs’ attorneys.
Ultimately, there is nothing special about the prejudice against foreign doctors, particularly those whose English is less than perfect. More poignantly, there has been the pervasive influence of race in jury decisions is this country that is well chronicled. To Kill a Mockingbird did not suggest this was a unique set of facts. While bigotry is not in a growth phase, jurors have been deciding based on racial stereotypes and prejudices throughout the history of our country.
Bottom line, if we are suing a foreign-born doctor, I want to win that case because we believe in it. Or we would not have taken the case. But I want to win the case on the merits of the medicine, not because of unfair prejudices against the doctor.