States expand programs to draw doctors to rural areas

One of the most pressing challenges among rural healthcare providers is the dearth of doctors in nonmetropolitan areas, an issue that several states have recently pushed to address.

In Minnesota, state lawmakers from both sides of the aisle have sponsored a bill to expand a program that offers financial incentives to aspiring clinicians and other health workers if they commit to working in a rural area for at least three years after finishing school, the Associated Press reported. Some think the program should be expanded even further to include general surgery residents, dental therapists, chiropractors and doctors who have trained abroad.

A similar bill, which recently passed the Virginia Senate unanimously, aims to expand the existing tuition-relief program to include students from out-of-state academic institutions who agree to practice in underserved parts of the state, according to local TV station WSET.

In a unique approach, a proposed expansion of an Arizona law that offers student-loan relief to rural doctors would allow the program to accept private donations, Your West Valley reported. The arrangement would keep the initiative from drawing more taxpayer money from the cash-strapped state and allow private healthcare organizations that have already indicated interest to participate in the program.

But adding doctors isn't the only solution to improving healthcare in underserved areas. Physician assistants (PAs) have already provided effective relief to care shortages in rural counties, Ted Rubrack, founding director of the Oregon Health & Science University's PA program, told the East Oregonian. Indeed, "having PAs has allowed us to accept more patients," Ty Driskel, a provider in Pendleton, Oregon, told the newspaper.

Noting this, more and more states have moved to expand the scope of care that clinicians such as advanced-practice registered nurses can provide in an attempt to improve healthcare access in certain areas, FierceHealthcare has reported. One recent study even suggested that adding more non-physician health workers to hospital staffs can increase productivity and community engagement.

To learn more:
- read the AP article
- check out the WSET report
- here's the Your West Valley piece
- read the East Oregonian article