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Banned medical schools still turn out MDs practicing in U.S.

Associated Press

December 14, 2003

HARTFORD, Conn. -- Hundreds of doctors in the United States got their degrees from medical schools whose graduates are banned in several states because of questionable educational standards, The Hartford Courant reported Sunday.

Inconsistent licensing rules among states allow nearly 900 doctors to pursue careers after graduating offshore medical schools that have not been accredited in the United States, the newspaper reported as part of a series examining problems in medical education and practices.

Graduates of Spartan Health Sciences University on the Caribbean island of St. Lucia and two schools in the Dominican Republic - the Universidad Tecnologica de Santiago and the Universidad Eugenio Maria de Hostos - are banned in at least six states.

Graduates of the University of Health Sciences in Antigua, another Caribbean island, are banned in four states.

Only a few of 1,642 medical schools outside the United States and listed by the World Health Organization have been banned by a U.S. medical board.

A California official told the newspaper the bans are needed to protect patients.

"That's why we have to look into every aspect of how these people are trained and where they are trained," said Pat Park, the foreign schools liaison at the Medical Board of California. "They can pose a serious danger to the public."

About 6,000 U.S. citizens attend foreign medical schools, prompting some officials to call for uniform national regulations.

"We would really like to see a national organization do this," said Jill Wiggins, spokeswoman for the Texas board of medical standards. "The standard should be national, not left up to the individual states."

Texas is among the states that ban doctors who graduate from the three schools. Other states that ban graduates of certain schools or restrict their practice include Alabama, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, New Mexico and Vermont.

The restrictions vary, The Courant found. In California, for example, the ban is absolute. Other states permit exceptions and allow applicants to petition for a review of their experience and training.

Licensing directors in several states said keeping up with changes in offshore medical schools would be impractical and dispatching inspection teams to the Caribbean would be costly.

Dr. James N. Thompson, president of the Dallas-based State Federation of Medical Boards, said there is "no good system for accrediting all international medical schools."

He said measures used by state boards to assess applicants' knowledge and skills are thorough and weed out those who can't perform at the level expected of doctors in the United States.

"I think it does a remarkably good job of protecting the public," he said.

Officials of the Universidad Tecnologica de Santiago reject the negative assessment of California authorities. The school has hundreds of graduates who have passed U.S. licensing requirements and all the necessary examinations, school officials told The Courant.

"The quality of graduates can be determined by the high number of those who, having achieved their licenses, practice in the United States," said Pedro Gil Iturbides, an official of the Santiago school.

A message from The Associated Press seeking additional comment was left at the school Sunday.

Officials of Spartan and the University of Health Sciences declined to comment to the newspaper. A woman who answered the phone at Spartan Sunday said no one was available to comment. A message left at the University of Health Sciences Sunday was not immediately returned.

The Universidad Eugenio Maria de Hostos closed in 1998.

Gavin Humphrey's wife has lingered for four years in a coma after an alleged medical error during an emergency Caesarean section at St. Mary's Hospital in Brooklyn, N.Y., in 1999.

A lawsuit settled for more than $5 million accused Lyonel Paul, a doctor who graduated from Spartan Health Sciences University, of committing a fundamental medical error: mistaking Humphrey's esophagus for her trachea, depriving her brain of oxygen.

Paul has denied any wrongdoing, The Courant said. Paul could not be reached for comment Sunday; a home telephone number was not listed.

"I'm still angry," said Humphrey, a track maintenance worker for the New York City Transit Authority who is raising a family while working full-time. "I would do anything to have her back, if not for me, for the kids. They need their mother."

Copyright © 2003, The Associated Press