New York Needs More Doctors and Better Policies to Encourage More Med Students to Stay

A Legislative Column by Assemblyman Will Barclay
Access to quality healthcare is a necessary component for a thriving community and we are fortunate to have great healthcare facilities and providers in Central New York.

That being said, our healthcare system is under stress because we continue to face shortages of healthcare professionals in New York state, particularly in rural areas.

These shortages are particularly acute for primary care doctors and nurses but extend to specialty practices and other healthcare providers.

The need for more doctors was confirmed by a recent report by the Healthcare Association of New York State which found that New York needs 942 additional doctors, 615 of them are needed in Upstate. The report goes on to say that there are four factors contributing to the shortage of primary care physicians: (i) the current primary care physician workforce is aging and therefore retiring; (ii) fewer medical residents are choosing to go into primary care; (iii) high medical school debt is forcing residents toward specialties that typically pay more than primary care; and (iv) many doctors do not want to practice in rural, underserved areas of the state.

In order to help alleviate this problem, a number of proposals have been put forward including, among other things, increasing funding for the Doctors Across New York program and the use of more telemedicine services.

Over the past year, I have crafted legislation that also will help address our doctor shortage.

My legislation, that was drafted with the assistance of Dr. Ron Uva, a leader in obstetrics and gynecology, who formerly practiced in Oswego, would provide funding to establish 50 additional residencies at hospitals in New York State.

The legislation then requires those who fill and complete these residency positions to commit to practicing in an underserved area of New York state for a minimum of five years.

The effect of this legislation, if enacted, is threefold.

One, it will increase the number of residency positions. All physicians must complete three or more years of residency training after receiving their medical degree. Unfortunately, due to a number of reasons, the number of residency positions in New York state and across the country is much lower than the number of students receiving their medical degrees. Accordingly, a large number of medical school graduates are unable to get the necessary training to become licensed, practicing doctors. My legislation, in a small way, attempts to address this issue.

Second, the doctors completing these residencies will be required to practice in an underserved area of New York state for a minimum of five years. This, like the state’s Doctors Across New York program, is meant to get doctors into rural, underserved areas. Quite simply, in exchange for the state paying for these residency positions, those doctors who benefit from the residency positions will need to provide their services to areas most in need in New York State and not simply leave the state as, unfortunately, so many NYS medical school graduates are now doing.

Third, it is a hope that by requiring these doctors to complete five years of service in a medically underserved area, they will build a practice in these areas and therefore be more inclined to stay. It is not enough to simply get doctors to practice in underserved areas for a limited duration. We want them to stay, build a practice in these areas, and become a part of the community.

I understand that this legislation alone will not solve our doctor shortage and that it does not address the shortages for other healthcare providers such as nurses.

However, it is a good and relatively inexpensive way to start addressing the issue and perhaps can provide the model for a larger, more encompassing program.

If you have any questions or comments on this or any other state issue, or if you would like to be added to my mailing list or receive my newsletter, please contact my office.

My office can be reached by mail at 200 North Second Street, Fulton, New York 13069, by e-mail at [email protected] or by calling (315) 598-5185.

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