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Congressional committee calls for addressing barriers to medical education


Barriers are preventing more doctors and nurses from entering the workforce that are desperately needed.

The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions recently addressed the barriers that prevent more people from becoming physicians and nurses, leading to shortages that hurt patients and drive up costs.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, chairman of the committee, called for reducing these barriers and brought medical school administrators to discuss possible solutions.

The problem is acknowledged by both Democrats and Republicans, so there is some hope a bipartisan solution can be agreed on. Sanders pointed out that life expectancy in the U.S. has fallen in recent years and says part of the problem is the lack of health care providers is preventing people from receiving timely care, particularly in rural areas.

Sanders said the graduate medical school program must be expanded to help absorb the 10,000 medical school graduates who are not matched to a residency each year. He also said that large medical school debts disincentivize doctors from going to rural areas where the pay is lower and would take longer to pay off the loans. His solution is for student loan forgiveness to be increased.

The medical school administrators who testified said there were several problems facing the health care workforce. The nursing population has an average age of 54 years old, and almost 20% are 65 or older, meaning there is a desperate need to both recruit new nurses and retain current ones.

For this to happen, additional resources are needed to help people get into nursing programs, get the training and certification they need, plus graduate into careers that encourage worker retention. Tens of thousands of qualified applicants are rejected due to a lack of space in classes and the lack of scholarship funds. The lack of space in classes is due in part to a shortage of nursing school faculty, where there about 2,100 openings.

The administrators testified that faculty-based nurses need to be retained by paying them as much as their counterparts who do clinical work.

Sen. Bill Cassidy, a physician, said that many experienced nurses are unable to teach at nursing schools because they lack masters degrees – a requirement to teach at the college level in many states.

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