Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Bill would allow Missouri medical school grads to bypass residency to practice in rural areas

Missouri's rural doctor shortage could soon come to an end. The state legislation passed a measure adding the classification “assistant physician” to the state medical license. The new classification, if signed into law by Gov. Jay Nixon, would allow medical school graduates who have passed licensing exams to bypass their three-year residency and practice primary care and prescribe drugs in rural and underserved areas, Blythe Bernhard reports for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "Their practice would be overseen by a physician who would be required to be on-site only for the first month."

About 37 percent of state residents live in rural areas, but only 18 percent of primary care doctors practice in those areas, Bernhard writes. "Jeffrey Howell of the Missouri State Medical Association said the number of potential new doctors in Missouri could be much higher when graduates of foreign medical schools are included. As the only state in the country with the assistant physician designation, Missouri could attract medical school graduates looking to start practicing medicine, he said."

But not everyone supports the idea. Rosemary Gibson, a board member of the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education, told Bernhard, “I question whether four years of medical school is enough to go out and take care of patients. People in rural and under-served areas deserve a fully trained, competent physician just like everyone else.”

Dr. Kathryn Diemer, assistant dean for career counseling at Washington University in St. Louis "is concerned about the amount of education the assistant physicians would receive when practicing in rural areas," saying the first year of residency is a critical learning opportunity, Bernard writes. Diemer told Bernard, "That was a year that I learned so much about decision-making and learning how to trust my judgment. I’m not sure medical students after two years of clinical experience could be ready to be that independent.” (Read more)

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