According to the Robert Graham Center, the United States is projected to need nearly 52,000 new primary care physicians by 2025; by 2032, the projected shortage of primary care physicians and specialists is estimated to be between 46,000 to 122,000 doctors. This shortage is expected to hit rural America the hardest, exacerbating the already-scarce healthcare system that hangs delicately in the balance. With the demand for doctors mounting, our country- especially rural America- can’t wait. The United States has long partnered with international doctors to meet this growing need by issuing J-1 visas to allow these doctors to practice medicine in rural communities; however, as visa backlogs grow and international doctors encounter other roadblocks, doctors and Congress are looking for a way to cut the red tape.
The Conrad State 30 program helps place 30 international doctors in each state to serve in medically underserved areas. H.R. 2895, the Conrad State 30 and Physician Access Reauthorization Act, will encourage more physicians to practice in rural communities. This bill increases the number of allotted international physicians for each state from 30 to 35, allowing states the opportunity to place these doctors in the communities that need them the most. It also increases the time a physician must commit to residing in a rural community from 3 years to 5 years, which gives them time to establish a medical practice they’re invested in, making it less likely that they would want to leave at the end of their tenure and more likely that they’d want to re-commit.
I have personally spoken with international physicians from Springfield in my Washington office—one happens to be my doctor’s partner—and they say this program encouraged them to create a life in Missouri’s medically underserved areas. They have established practices and have become members of the community because this program gave them the opportunity to live in a community they may have overlooked. They are members of the PTA and little league coaches with a vested interest in improving these communities because this is their home too.
I’ve been a leading proponent of incentivizing doctors to practice in rural and underserved areas through participating in the National Health Service Corps program, which repays medical school loans for primary care physicians practicing in rural and underserved areas. However, it’s clear that more needs to be done. Rural communities will continue to fall further behind urban areas with residents falling victim to costly medical catastrophes that could have been avoided had they been given access to proper preventative care. Fostering an environment that encourages international physicians to integrate into the communities they serve discourages rural flight and gives these communities a chance to prosper. Expanding this program makes finding a solution far more surmountable.
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