When 135 medical students gathered Wednesday for entry into the Class of 2018 Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine program at Touro University Nevada, former U.S. Rep. Shelley Berkley anticipated passage of a bill that will some day let many of them train at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in North Las Vegas.
“If there is adequate funding for residency programs, students from Touro can get their residency requirements satisfied at the VA and inevitably they will remain here in Nevada, at least 69 percent of them statistically will,” she said.
“There is a reason, in addition to incompetence, why most VA hospitals have a waiting list,” she said. “They don’t have enough medical personnel to care for the number of veterans that are accessing the VA system.”
Berkley, whose priority as a lawmaker was to open the $1 billion VA Medical Center in North Las Vegas in 2012, is CEO and senior provost for Touro University’s Western Division. She is adamant about grooming students at the Henderson campus to fill the VA’s doctor shortage in Nevada that’s blamed on long waits and lagging health care for veterans.
As of September there were 48,588 veterans enrolled in the VA Southern Nevada Healthcare System and 184 medical doctors, or one doctor for every 264 patients. There are also 10 nurse practitioners, one doctor of osteopathy, and 12 physician assistants, four emergency room doctors, two emergency physician assistants and 10 contract emergency room medical professionals.
“The problem we have in the state of Nevada and in other states as well, including California, is that we don’t have enough residency programs. So we are educating medical students locally, they are graduating from medical schools and they are leaving the state in order to satisfy their residency requirement,” she said.
Berkley spoke about the VA’s doctor dilemma as the House passed a VA reform measure that includes $5 billion to hire doctors and medical staff. It contains a provision co-sponsored by Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., to establish 2,000 residency positions at VA hospitals in areas such as the Las Vegas Valley, El Paso, Texas, and San Bernardino County, Calif. The Senate is expected to approve the bill Thursday or Friday.
Berkley hopes the bill will foster residency positions for the Southern Nevada VA that cost $100,000 apiece.
“If we could get a few hundred of them, I think we will go a long way to satisfying the physician shortage in the state,” she said.
With 1,400 students, Touro University Nevada has the only occupational therapy masters program in the state. “We’re graduating exactly what the VA needs and they’re very anxious to have our students,” Berkley said.
Contact Keith Rogers at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0308. Find him on Twitter: @KeithRogers2.