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Lawmakers back legislation addressing Nevada’s doctor shortage

Updated August 21, 2017 - 9:02 pm

What medical researchers have found is nothing for Nevada to be proud of: There are about 251 physicians for every 100,000 people in the United States, but Nevada doesn’t quite hit 200.

And in Clark County, where most of the Silver State’s explosive growth is felt, the ratio is even worse — 189 physicians per 100,000 residents.

Although the new UNLV School of Medicine is a step toward correcting the decades-old doctor shortage in Nevada, the school’s chief of staff, Maureen Schafer, said Monday that legislation opening up more residency slots at hospitals for the advanced training of new doctors is critical if the Silver State is to climb out of the nation’s cellar when it comes to giving its residents access to health care.

If people want more doctors in Nevada, “the journey doesn’t end with medical school,” she said at a press conference while introducing two Democratic members of Congress from Southern Nevada, Reps. Jacky Rosen and Ruben Kihuen.

They are co-sponsors of a bill that would increase the number of Medicare-supported residency positions. Although residency slots also can be funded by the state, medical schools and hospitals, Medicare — the federal health insurance program for the elderly — is the largest public source of revenue, helping to cover the $150,000 a year that the Association of American Medical Colleges estimates is needed to train each resident.

A residency is a stage of graduate medical training for new doctors who generally practice medicine under supervision in a hospital or clinic for about three years in their chosen specialty, which may include emergency medicine, family medicine, internal medicine, general surgery, pediatrics, obstetrics and other fields.

Research has shown, Schafer said, that the majority of doctors remain where they take about three years of intensive training in their chosen speciality.

“More residencies are definitely necessary,” she said.

Rosen and Kihuen are backing legislation proposed in May by Rep. Joe Crowley, D-N.Y., that would increase the number of Medicare-supported hospital residency positions by a total of 15,000, or 3,000 slots over five years.

Both Southern Nevada representatives said Monday they hope the legislation, called the Resident Physician Shortage Reduction Act, will find bipartisan backing.

“This is too important to get caught up in partisanship,” Kihuen said in an interview after the press conference at the Nevada Health Center at 1799 Mount Mariah Drive.

A study released in May by the AAMC forecasts that the United States will face a shortage of 40,000 to 105,000 physicians by 2030.

Rosen said good medical care for Americans shouldn’t be a political issue.

In the Senate, Republican Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., is also a sponsor of a bill that would open up 15,000 new residency slots, increasing the chances that legislation could be approved and more positions could become available.

Contact Paul Harasim at pharasim@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-5273. Follow @paulharasim on Twitter.

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