The number of physicians in France who gained their degrees in foreign universities has surged by 43 percent over the past five years, partially helping to fill in gaps created by a serious shortage of medical practitioners in the country.

Foreign-trained doctors (that is, qualified physicians with non-French medical degrees) now represent 9 percent of the nation’s total. Algerians accounted for about one-fifth of all foreign-educated doctors, followed by Romanians (17.7 percent) and Belgians (8.9 percent).

Since Jan. 1, almost one-fourth (24.1 percent) of all doctors newly registered in France obtained their degrees elsewhere, according to a report from Le Conseil de l'Ordre de Medecins (CNOM), the French Medical Board.

In the rural Auvergne region of central France, the number of foreign physicians has doubled over the past five years.

On the whole there are now 17,835 foreign doctors in France and most of them are specialists, CNOM stated. The BMF business newspaper reported that foreign doctors are particularly recruited by French hospitals in such areas as radiology and anesthesia.

"If there have never before been as many registered doctors in France, it's due to the number of retired doctors still working and the influx of European and non-European doctors," CNOM said in a statement.

Nonetheless, foreign doctors will be unlikely to plug the holes in France’s medical establishment, particularly in underserved rural regions.

Last December, Health Minister Marisol Touraine said the Socialist government of President Francois Hollande would pay young doctors higher salaries as an incentive to work in rural areas.

“It's difficult for young doctors to set up a practice and settle in a new area, so we're offering financial support for the first two years,” Touraine said.

The plan guarantees annual salaries of 55,000 euros for 200 newly registered doctors if they move into parts of the country where there are shortages.

According to the RFI news agency, the Picardy region in northern France suffers from the most dramatic shortage – only 1 doctor for every 500 residents.