OVERSEAS-TRAINED doctors are more likely to be the subject of complaints to medical boards and receive adverse findings than doctors who trained in Australia, a study has found.
Researchers from Melbourne University's school of population health and law reported the results after examining more than 5000 complaints against 3191 doctors in Victoria and Western Australia between 2001 and 2010.
Writing in The Medical Journal of Australia, they said that overseas-trained doctors had 24 per cent higher odds of attracting complaints than Australian-trained doctors, and 41 per cent higher odds of having adverse disciplinary findings made against them.
But the researchers, led by Professor David Studdert, said a significantly higher incidence of complaints among doctors trained in seven countries accounted for most of the difference.
Doctors with higher complaint rates had trained in Nigeria, Egypt, Poland, Russia, Pakistan, the Philippines and India.
Those who trained in 13 other countries were no more likely than Australian-trained doctors to attract complaints, including doctors trained in Iran, Iraq, China, Malaysia and Bangladesh.
Overseas-trained doctors account for nearly a quarter of doctors working at present in Australia.
The researchers said that while doctors trained in some overseas countries had relatively high complaint rates, their contribution to total complaints in Victoria and Western Australia was small.
They said more research was needed to pinpoint why medical training in certain countries was associated with higher complaint rates.
''The 'at risk' countries we identified share some similar features: English is not the primary language, and all have medical education and health systems that are quite different to Australia's,'' they wrote.
''However, this explanation is incomplete because the same can be said of several other countries whose trainees did not exhibit higher risks of attracting complaints.
''Complainant factors may also play a role, with higher risks of complaints against doctors from some countries possibly reflecting cultural biases.''
The researchers said their study suggested that authorities could take more sophisticated approaches to regulating overseas-trained doctors, possibly by singling out graduates from particular countries for especially rigorous registration and oversight.