Variations in regulations to control standards for training and licensing of physicians: a multi-country comparison

Wafa Aftab, Mishal Khan, Sonia Rego, Nishant Chavan, Afifah Rahman-Shepherd, Isha Sharma, Shishi Wu, Zahra Zeinali, Rumina Hasan, Sameen Siddiqi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Citations (Scopus)


Background: To strengthen health systems, the shortage of physicians globally needs to be addressed. However, efforts to increase the numbers of physicians must be balanced with controls on medical education imparted and the professionalism of doctors licensed to practise medicine. Methods: We conducted a multi-country comparison of mandatory regulations and voluntary guidelines to control standards for medical education, clinical training, licensing and re-licensing of doctors. We purposively selected seven case-study countries with differing health systems and income levels: Canada, China, India, Iran, Pakistan, UK and USA. Using an analytical framework to assess regulations at four sequential stages of the medical education to relicensing pathway, we extracted information from: systematically collected scientific and grey literature and online news articles, websites of regulatory bodies in study countries, and standardised input from researchers and medical professionals familiar with rules in the study countries. Results: The strictest controls we identified to reduce variations in medical training, licensing and re-licensing of doctors between different medical colleges, and across different regions within a country, include: medical education delivery restricted to public sector institutions; uniform, national examinations for medical college admission and licensing; and standardised national requirements for relicensing linked to demonstration of competence. However, countries analysed used different combinations of controls, balancing the strictness of controls across the four stages. Conclusions: While there is no gold standard model for medical education and practise regulation, examining the combinations of controls used in different countries enables identification of innovations and regulatory approaches to address specific contextual challenges, such as decentralisation of regulations to sub-national bodies or privatisation of medical education. Looking at the full continuum from medical education to licensing is valuable to understand how countries balance the strictness of controls at different stages. Further research is needed to understand how regulating authorities, policy-makers and medical associations can find the right balance of standardisation and context-based flexibility to produce well-rounded physicians.

Original languageEnglish
Article number91
JournalHuman Resources for Health
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2021


  • Governance
  • Human resources
  • Medical training


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