Weekly Columns

More doctors are getting their education in Arkansas than ever before. The openings in recent years of the Arkansas College of Osteopathic Medicine in Fort Smith and the NYIT College of Osteopathic Medicine in Jonesboro add to the well-established College of Medicine at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) which has been training doctors for more than a century and recently opened the doors to its Northwest Arkansas Regional Campus.  

Despite an increase in training opportunities in our state, data from the Association of American Medical Colleges show the U.S. is expected to face a shortage of up to nearly 122,000 physicians by 2032. We’re taking action to prevent this shortfall and ensure we have well-qualified doctors for future generations of Arkansans and all Americans. 

After medical school, prospective providers are required to complete a residency program to refine their skills in specialty fields and obtain their license to practice. An arbitrary cap on the number of residents funded by Medicare, the primary source of payment for residents, has contributed to the doctor shortage and prevented medical school graduates who want to continue living and working in Arkansas for their residency the opportunity to do so.

Earlier this year, I joined a bipartisan effort to introduce theResident Physician Shortage Reduction Actthat would gradually lift the caps on Medicare-supported doctor training slots by 3,000 per year over five years – creating 15,000 new residency training slots across the country. Half of these slots would be in specialty fields. This commonsense bill is a modest yet positive step we can take to improve access to quality medical services in urban and rural communities across Arkansas. 

According to UAMS, there will be 439 medical school graduates in the next two years in Arkansas, but there are only 290 residency slots in our state. This means graduates will complete their residency elsewhere and potentially establish practices in states other than Arkansas. We want to train and retain the physicians who study here so they can provide care for us, our family and our friends. Additionally, residents become part of the communities they serve. UAMS Chancellor Dr. Cam Patterson says physicians are more likely to practice within 50 miles of their final residency training. 

In addition to better access to care, updates to residency slots will have a positive economic impact. A report released by the Northwest Arkansas Council in January about the region’s health care needs showed an increase in physician residency positions is critical to the area’s growth.  

I recently had the opportunity to talk more about the Resident Physician Shortage Reduction Actduring a discussion with Arkansas health care providers and other government officials about solutions to the growing residency shortage in our state. We all share the common goal of increasing the number of physicians and investing in future doctors for our health care, and by working together we can help supply the medical professionals Arkansans need. They agreed that this bill is a good step to improving health care in our state. 

Arkansas can be proud of the education it offers future physicians. We must be prepared to meet the future health care needs of Natural State residents. Passing the Resident Physician Shortage Reduction Actis a good place to start.