I read an article in the past - I forget the source now, but I believe it was credible - about how American STEM PhD programs (and master's programs) admit a lot of qualified international students, e.g. from China and India, in order to help fill the skills gaps in the U.S., but an interesting phenomenon was that American medical schools don't act in the same way, effectively not admitting international students and preserving the acceptance slots for American students. If this is indeed true, why is that the case? Doesn't the United States have a skills gap in medicine and a shortage of medical doctors?

  • The STEM skills gap is mostly a myth. Only in computer science (and maybe statistics) is there arguably a lack of qualified people, relative to the job opportunities available.
    – user37208
    Commented Apr 19, 2018 at 14:50
  • 2
    As for doctors, there are tons of people who want to go to med school but can't get in because of stiff competition. The number and size of MD programs is the bottleneck.
    – user37208
    Commented Apr 19, 2018 at 14:52
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    To substantiate the claim: "In 2014, 1,901 foreign applicants applied to M.D.-granting programs in the United States and 409 of those applicants were accepted. Of those accepted, 300 matriculated into medical school." students-residents.aamc.org/applying-medical-school/article/… Stated reasons I've found is few slots (but not exactly why the slots are reserved), and scarce funding - most people going to med school must self-fund in some way. www2.clarku.edu/departments/prehealth/resources/…
    – BrianH
    Commented Apr 19, 2018 at 14:58

2 Answers 2


This may have changed but we studied cartels in college and the American Medical Association (AMA) was called a cartel by my professor.

In the US the AMA not only sanctions the medical schools but puts a count on how many students can be accepted. Since there are a limited number of slots competition is more fierce.

There is no external body limiting STEM or other graduate school departments.

STEM and other PhD can get grants as they are producing a product (thesis) that can be (and often is) sponsored.

In medical school the only product is medical training for the student. There is little to no incentive to sponsor a medical degree.

  • Please check my edits and roll back if you're not comfortable with them. The main thing was that I removed the editorial comment at the end, which isn't relevant to the question. (By the way, what you mentioned is not the only factor.) Commented Apr 20, 2018 at 4:03

An important difference between graduate education in the arts and sciences (and engineering) and graduate education in professional schools (fields such as medicine, law, and business) in the US is that most graduate students in science and engineering are financially supported by teaching or research assistantships that cover tuition and pay a stipend for living expenses, while most students in the professional fields pay tuition (as much as $100,000 per year for medical school.)

Very few international students can afford to pay tuition for these professional programs.

Most of the US citizens in these programs take on substantial student loan debt with the expectation that they'll earn enough after graduation to pay off their debt. For students in medicine and business, this has worked fairly well.

  • Yes, you're entirely right that funding matters here, and it probably creates an additional selection effect. As you say, the pool of international students who would actually attend U.S. medical schools is small because of cost, and they probably tend to be richer. But even among wealthy international students, those who are more academically talented would probably often apply to academic graduate education instead of med school, because of cost. (Talented international students who deeply want to be doctors might train in a different country or seek an MD-PhD program for cost purposes.) Commented Apr 20, 2018 at 0:24
  • Very few international students can afford to pay tuition for these professional programs I am not too sure about that. I do know that there are a lot of wealthy parents want to send their kids to US medical school, but can't because they could not get the admission. Many of those wealthy parents have money like tens of millions USD$ and they are willing to spend millions of USD$ just to send their kids to American medical school. Medical doctors have the highest social level in here (Taiwan).
    – Nobody
    Commented Apr 20, 2018 at 4:16
  • By a lot in my comment above I do mean at least hundreds of thousands. Hundreds of thousands of dollars is nothing to them
    – Nobody
    Commented Apr 20, 2018 at 4:17

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