By Christine Whitmarsh, RN, BSN
The shortage of new and prospective physicians is not the only issue concerning health care industry administrators and lawmakers. Solutions are also being developed to ensure that our nation’s supply of physicians and other primary care providers is not concentrated all in the same locations. While those locations may vary, the places with the sparsest distribution of physicians continue to be rural, frontier and inner-city areas. Within those areas, community health centers and outpatient clinics are desperately in need of primary care providers such as physicians, nurse practitioners, locum tenens physicians, and physician assistants. Locum tenens and travel physicians can help with the maldistribution of providers.
$500 million in federal stimulus funds has been earmarked for physician distribution-related issues. For instance, $300 million of that is intended to place primary care providers in rural and other underserved areas. Other proposed solutions include stoking an interest in math and science in future generation of potential medical students, especially in rural communities. The theory is that some of these same students may return “home” someday, medical license in hand, to work. Rural or otherwise, the Association of American Medical Colleges is calling for a 30% increase in medical school enrollment to meet physician needs through 2025.
In the meantime, as the shortage and maldistribution persists, travel doctors, travel nurse practitioners and travel physician assistants all have valuable opportunities to help fill in staffing gaps across the country. Administrators in clinical settings are now requiring longer recruitment time to fill permanent positions. Traveling locum physicians and other primary providers can play indispensable roles in ensuring that the flow of patient care remains uninterrupted in smaller and underserved communities by filling these positions until a permanent replacement can be found.
Christine Whitmarsh is a Registered Nurse with a BSN from the University of Rhode Island. She is a freelance health journalist and medical writer and a contributor to Travel Nurse Source and Allied Travel Careers.