Missouri expands law to allow ‘assistant physicians’ that could become a national model to solve the doctor shortage

Male doctor in white lab coat
Missouri is looking to address a physician shortage with assistant physicians.

In an effort to solve its physician shortage, Missouri plans to expand its first-in-the-nation law that will allow medical school graduates who didn’t get spots in residency programs to work as “assistant physicians.”

The law, if signed by the governor, will allow more people to get licensed as assistant physicians, a new category of licensed medical professionals, according to the Associated Press. It also could become a national model for other states struggling with the looming physician shortage.

The Association of American Medical Colleges estimates a projected shortage of between 40,800 and 104,900 doctors by 2030. Numerous states and communities are feeling the impact of the physician shortage and have come up with strategies, including starting new branches of medical schools, such as the new college of osteopathic medicine that opened on the campus of Arkansas State University last fall.

RELATED: Physician shortage could hit 100K by 2030

Despite a growing shortage of physicians, each year the number of medical school graduates exceeds the number of residency program slots. For instance, in the last five years, a total of 40,000 newly graduated doctors didn't find a residency program match, according to a group called No Residency Match M.D. Without a year of post-graduate training, a graduate cannot obtain a medical license and cannot practice medicine in the U.S.

RELATED: Thousands of newly graduated doctors don't find a residency program match

Another worry when it comes to the doctor shortage is President Donald Trump's executive order signed in April that will overhaul a visa program that allows thousands of foreign doctors to work in the United States. Some 2,156 healthcare employers rely on physicians who hold H-1B visas, particularly in medically underserved areas.

Missouri was the first state in the country to take action back in 2014 to allow medical school graduates who passed key medical exams, but weren’t placed in a residency program, to treat patients. The law was seen as a way to get additional doctors into underserved areas of the state.

However, it has taken time to launch the program, and the state did not begin accepting applications until Jan. 31. The legislature passed a law that would allow applicants, who are no longer qualified because too much time has gone by since their medical exams, to still get licensed as assistant physicians, the AP reported. The program is seen as a model that could help other states struggling with a shortage of doctors.

“This bill takes folks that very much want to ply their trade—they just want the opportunity to provide patient care—and the bill requires that they serve in an underserved area,” Missouri Rep. Keith Frederick, an orthopedic surgeon who sponsored the assistant physician law, told the AP.