In 2010, President Obama signed into law the now historic Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act that seeks to remedy many of the enduring troubles that plague the U.S. healthcare system. One such problem is the shortage of healthcare professionals (i.e. physicians, nurse practitioners, physician assistants) and other health-related manpower, particularly in the primary care setting. A recent New York Times article cites a study estimating a shortage of 9,000 primary care doctors, which could rise to 65,000 in the next 15 years.
The lack of primary care physicians across the nation has signaled the need to pour more federal dollars into training and incentivizing this area of medicine. Proposals include increasing primary care reimbursement, and offering loan repayment assistance and scholarships for students interested in working in primary care. Some are also pushing for an expansion of educators and clinical training sites for primary care. Many states have monies available that will compensate a PA plus repay student loans if they work in primary care settings in underserved communities. (See the list of resources below.)
Meanwhile, states are working on their own solutions to the physician shortages. California lawmakers, for example, are working on a provision that would allow PAs to treat more patients and NPs to set up independent practices. Under the proposal, other allied healthcare professionals such as pharmacists and optometrists could also act as primary care providers, diagnosing and managing some chronic illnesses, such as diabetes and high-blood pressure.
In sum, the shortages offer opportunities for PAs to help fill gaps in primary care.
Darron T. Smith, PhD, is a frequent political and cultural commentator for Huffington Post and Your Black World. He has also contributed to various forums from Religion Dispatches and ESPN’s “Outside the Lines” to The New York Times and Chicago Tribune op-ed sections. Smith’s research spans a myriad of topics including healthcare disparities, religious studies, race and sports, transracial adoption and the black family.
For more information on serving in medically underserved areas please see:
- Indian Health Service, “Physician Assistants: A vital primary health care resource for rural and frontier communities,” available at http://www.ihs.gov/PhysicianAssistants/
- Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, “Federally Qualified Health Center Fact Sheet,” available at http://www.cms.gov/Outreach-and-Education/Medicare-Learning-Network-MLN/MLNProducts/downloads/fqhcfactsheet.pdf
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, “National Health Service Corps,” available at http://nhsc.hrsa.gov/