Senators introduce bipartisan legislation to address physician shortage.

Last week, U.S. Senator Roger Wicker (R-MS) joined Senator Jacky Rosen (D-NV) to introduce the Specialty Physicians Advancing Rural Care (SPARC) Act. The bipartisan legislation will help address the shortage of physicians in rural communities by creating a student loan repayment program for specialist physicians practicing in those areas.

Rural areas are historically medically underserved, and over half of the federally designated health professional shortage areas are located in these communities.

“Rural communities have a chronic shortage of specialty providers, and Congress should do what it can to address the problem,” Senator Wicker said. “The SPARC Act would move the ball forward by offering much-needed student loan relief for physicians and other medical professionals who serve in rural areas.”

“Nevada is facing a dire doctor shortage with all 17 of our counties being designated as physician shortage areas – and this is impacting rural counties the most,” Senator Rosen said. “I’m introducing this bipartisan legislation because we need to do more to incentivize specialty physicians and other specialized medical professionals to work in rural areas and underserved communities.”

According to The Complexities of Physician Supply and Demand: Projections From 2019 to 2034 (PDF), a report released by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), the U.S. faces a projected shortage of between 37,800 and 124,000 physicians within 12 years.

“Because it can take up to a decade to properly educate and train a physician, we need to take action now to ensure we have enough physicians to meet the needs of tomorrow,” AMA President Gerald E. Harmon, MD, wrote in a recent Leadership Viewpoints column. “The health of our nation depends on it.”

This legislation is endorsed by American Gastroenterological Association, the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, the American Medical Students Association, the Student National Medical Association, the American Urological Association, and the American College of Rheumatology.

Dr. John M. Inadomi, President of the American Gastroenterological Association, said that ensuring the pipeline of specialty physicians for our aging population is critical especially in rural areas of our country.

“The Specialty Physicians Advancing Rural Care will provide much needed incentives for medical students to practice in rural areas where some patients have little to no access to specialty care,” Dr. Inadomi said.

Dr. Eugene Rhee, Public Policy Chair of the American Urological Association, talked about the importance of the SPARC Act.

“The SPARC Act takes the steps necessary to incentivize specialty physicians to serve in rural America, where many Americans lack access to close and readily available specialty care when necessary,” said Dr. Rhee.

Dr. David Khan, President of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, said that specialty care comes with specific costs that make it difficult for providers to choose to practice within underserved settings.

“As providers enter the workforce, they face legitimate concerns over their ability to pay off existing student debt from medical school,” Dr. Khan said. “This debt often leads them away from choosing subspecialties or practicing in rural and underserved areas. By investing in the repayment of these student loans, the federal government will help ensure access to specialty care in more areas across the country.”