Congress discussing ways to address nationwide healthcare worker shortage

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Lawmakers on Capitol Hill are examining ways to address the growing shortage of healthcare workers nationwide.

The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) estimate this shortfall will be upwards of 124,000 physicians by 2034.

And by that time, doctors say many active physicians will be aging as well and hitting over the age of 65.

The leaders from medical schools nationwide met with members of Congress Thursday.

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They say the issue isn’t just retaining current healthcare workers. Doctors say they’re also struggling to find staff to teach the next generation of medical students especially for the nursing profession.

Senators say they’re also concerned about this shortage for nurse educators.

“When you look at the requirements, in some states mine included, you have to have a master’s in nursing to be a nurse educator. Now I have worked with certificate nurses who have been by the beside for 20 years who knew nursing. The idea that we cannot use someone such as she to educate others, I think doesn’t acknowledge how much she knows,” said Senator Bill Cassidy, M.D. (R-LA)

This shortage comes as data from the Health Resources and Services Administration shows nearly 100 million people live in areas with limited access to primary health care providers.

“It means that nearly 70 million live in a dental care desert, unable to get dental care while teeth are rotting in their mouths. And it means that some 158 million Americans – nearly half the population – live in a mental health care desert at a time when this country is facing a major crisis in mental health,” said Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee.

Dr. James Hildreth from Meharry Medical College told lawmakers their graduates are already working to serve those areas.

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Their facility is one of four historically Black medical schools nationwide. He is asking Congress to invest $5 billion over the next five years into HBCU medical schools.

“The labs, the simulation centers, study spaces classrooms at our institutions that have been egregiously unfunded for decades,” said Dr. Hildreth. “This would also allow us to dramatically expand our pipeline programs that are meant to get more minorities in the healthcare professional.”

Hildreth believes this funding would help them train more doctors who also reflect the communities that need more support.

“When the provider team looks like population they are caring for, the outcomes are better that’s been demonstrated over and over again – that’s what we lose by not having a diverse workforce, the outcomes for our communities,” said Hildreth.

Some doctors say high debt is another factor turning people away from the medical field.  They’re also asking for tools to help ease that financial burden.