Newly reintroduced bill would increase federal support for physicians’ graduate medical education programs to increase access to care for patients nationwide
This week, the AAMC (Association of American Medical Colleges) endorsed the Resident Physician Shortage Reduction Act of 2021, introduced by Senators Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) and John Boozman (R-Ark.) and Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.). This bipartisan bill aims to expand the number of federally-supported medical residency positions by 2,000 annually for seven years, directly addressing the growing physician shortage and improving health care access for all.
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, medical schools and teaching hospitals were forced to rely on a patchwork of short-term solutions to ensure that their communities had access to much needed health care—including graduating students early from medical schools, calling up retired physicians, and relocating physicians from other geographic regions to staff their inpatient units. Even as the immediate crisis subsides, demand for care is expected to remain high as the nation’s population continues to grow and age. This will be exacerbated by demand for care deferred amid the pandemic and the long-term term effects of COVID-19, as well as the mental and emotional toll—all while physician supply remains constrained.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has underscored the vital role that physicians and all health care providers play in our nation’s health care infrastructure, and has laid bare the need for a more robust number of physicians,” said David J. Skorton, MD, AAMC president and CEO. “At the end of last year, bipartisan congressional leaders took the first step to address the physician shortage by adding 1,000 new Medicare-supported graduate medical education (GME) positions targeted at rural and other teaching hospitals nationwide. This ended a nearly 25-year freeze on Medicare support for GME. The Resident Physician Shortage Reduction Act would build upon this historic investment, help expand the physician workforce to address the estimated shortage of physicians, and serve as an essential component of our efforts to address current and future public health crises. It would also bolster our nation’s health care infrastructure and ensure access to high-quality health care for all.”
Academic medicine—the nation’s medical schools and teaching hospitals—continues to invest in physician and health care provider training and lead innovations in new care delivery models that are more efficient and include better use of technologies, such as telehealth, to improve access to care. Even with these efforts, doctor shortages and lack of access will continue unless the physician workforce grows.
Overall, current AAMC data show:
- The United States faces a projected physician shortage of between 54,100 and 139,000 doctors by 2033, and the COVID-19 pandemic has put additional serious strains on this workforce as it continues to respond to this national emergency;
- More than two of five currently active physicians will be 65 or older within the next decade, which will have a large impact on the available supply of physicians to meet the nation’s medical needs; and,
- 40% of the country’s practicing physicians felt burnt out at least once a week before the COVID-19 crisis began—and the issue of increased clinician burnout has only been intensified by the pandemic—which could cause doctors and other health professionals to cut back their hours or even accelerate their plans for retirement.
“An increase in new GME residency positions is just one part of a multipronged approach to combat our nation’s physician shortage and will be integral to addressing health care equity in the future. An increased emphasis on diversifying the health care workforce is also critical. Additionally, the expansion of health care workforce programs will be an asset in ensuring that we are prepared to respond to the next pandemic, as well as our nation’s other public health threats such as the current substance use and mental health epidemics,” Skorton said. “The AAMC is committed to working with Senators Menendez and Boozman and Senate Democratic Leader Schumer, along with their Senate colleagues, to advance this critical piece of legislation that will help alleviate the doctor shortage and improve the health of people everywhere.”