Senate Public Health Chair wants more focus on physician shortage

by Roby Brock ([email protected]) 1,012 views 

State Sen. Missy Irvin, R-Mountain View, wants a stronger state focus on a physician shortage issue that she says threatens the health of rural Arkansans.

Irvin, who chairs the Senate Public Health Committee, appeared on this week’s Capitol View program and stressed that the medical worker shortage is a major workforce issue.

“I’m calling on the Secretary of Commerce to really put this at the top priority of his list. This is a workforce development issue and we’ve got to have more residencies in the state of Arkansas,” she said.

A report from the Arkansas Center for Health Improvement released this week shows that Arkansas does not have enough medical residencies for graduates to move into, which creates a net exodus of potential doctors from the state.

The report found that in 2021 there were only 309 residency positions for 431 medical school graduates. In 2022, there were 408 graduates, but only 341 residency positions were available. In 2023, there were 356 residency positions for 401 graduates.

Demographic trends also show that the state’s medical workforce is aging as Baby Boomers retire, which could lead to a serious shortage of doctors in coming years.

Irvin, whose husband is a rural physician in Mountain View, said the state has to fashion a solution to create more residency spots.

“I’m talking about opening up residency slots because you have right now medical students that are graduating from your DO school – Doctorate of Osteopathic schools – in Jonesboro and Fort Smith, and UAMS. Alice Walton is opening up a fourth medical school in the state of Arkansas. All of those graduates from medical school need a residency to go to,” she said.

The state is spending up to $10 million on new residency slots, but most of the residency positions are funding by Congress through Medicare funding. Irvin said there needs to be a more targeted effort to put money in the right places to meet needs.

“Congress, through Medicare, funds those residency spots, but states have stepped up. Hospitals themselves have stepped up to fund residency programs because we desperately need more residents to train in the state,” Irvin said. “Fifty-seven percent (57%) of the residents that train in that area remain in the area where they train. And that’s a high statistic. We want to retain the students that we’re educating in the state of Arkansas. We need to grow that workforce. We need to make sure that we are placing them all across the state of Arkansas.”

When asked if tax cuts should be limited in order to provide more funding for medical residencies, Irvin said the state should first focus on the money it has already budgeted for this issue.

“I think we’ve got to make sure that the money that we’ve already put towards workforce development, if it’s not being utilized properly, then let’s reshift what we already have. So let’s be more effective with what we’ve already spending. If we need more, then absolutely I would support more funding for residency programs in the state,” she said.

Irvin also discussed the controversy over the status of the Buffalo River. Watch her full interview in the video below.