Weekly Columns

New medical school graduates will begin their training as doctors in the coming days at hospitals in Arkansas and across the country. The residency program provides novice physicians the opportunity to improve their skills, gain confidence in treating patients and earn their license to practice while improving the health of the community.

As our population ages, the demand for quality, accessible medical care is increasing. We must reform outdated policies to strengthen the pipeline of physicians because of how urgent the need for change is. An analysis of physician supply and demand by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) shows the U.S. is expected to face a shortage of up to 124,000 physicians by 2034.

This topic was recently highlighted by the AAMC during its “Day of Action” on social media to raise awareness about the issue and build support for a measure to expand the Medicare-supported graduate medical education (GME) program. 

Medicare is the primary source of payment for doctors-in-training, helping to offset the costs teaching hospitals incur. In 1997, Congress froze the number of Medicare-funded GME positions, yet today we face a shortfall of qualified medical providers. That’s why I’m leading the Resident Physician Shortage Reduction Act, legislation that’s backed by the AAMC and other medical organizations.

This bill would gradually raise the number of GME positions by an additional 14,000 over seven years and prioritizes an increase in positions in hospitals located in states like Arkansas, with new medical schools, training over their caps, in rural areas or serving Health Professional Shortage Areas – locations with a shortage of primary health care professionals and facilities. More than 500,000 Arkansans live in an area defined by the federal government as lacking the adequate number of medical providers to serve the population.

I’m proud to champion the Resident Physician Shortage Reduction Act so we can expand training opportunities for medical school graduates and ultimately enhance access to quality health care.

This has been a longtime effort and we have made incremental progress with the addition of more than 1,200 new Medicare-supported GME slots in the last three years, but there is more we must do.  

Arkansas is home to the College of Medicine at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, the Arkansas College of Osteopathic Medicine in Fort Smith and the NYIT College of Osteopathic Medicine in Jonesboro, but up to one-third leave the state for residency training. In recent years, there were nearly half as many available residency positions as medical school graduates in the state, meaning a large share of prospective new doctors are forced to continue their medical training elsewhere. This is a problem because physicians are more likely to practice within 50 miles of their final residency training. We want to retain these doctors in Arkansas, so it’s important they train here.

There is a lot of hard work involved in getting into medical school and completing the clinical work to graduate. We must ensure there are places for these doctors to train and help patients. The good news is the Resident Physician Shortage Reduction Act has bipartisan, bicameral support, and momentum is growing to address this looming crisis. I’m proud to be at the forefront of this practical step to ensure we are prepared to respond to evolving health care challenges.