With the start of the new academic year for medical students, I am excited for the next generation of physicians to begin their careers in medicine. However, like many of these students, I am also nervous: The increase in student debt has created significant barriers for physicians wishing to enter and practice the primary care profession in underserved communities.
While the management Recent actions To cancel some debt for eligible borrowers and extend student loan pauses through the end of the year are welcome as positive steps forward, Congress must enact durable solutions to address medical student debt and our shrinking primary care workforce.
according to 2021 report from the national academies of sciences, engineering, and medicinePrimary care is the only component of health care where oversupply is associated with better health of the population and more equitable outcomes. However, the United States will need up to 48000 More Primary Care Physicians In The Next Decade, And According To The Association Of American Medical Colleges, Average Medical School Debt Between Class 2021 $200,000. Physicians will incur the same cost for their medical education whether they enter into primary care fields or subspecialties, but once they complete their training, primary care physicians may face more challenges in managing their debt compared to higher-paid surgery and procedure physicians.
With the above in mind, the healthcare community faces a workforce and equity problem: We need more doctors to practice in underserved communities, yet salaries may be lower. While the administration has made efforts to relieve student debt and address our healthcare workforce shortages, we need to focus on programs that will encourage more medical students to choose primary care, as well as break down real and perceived barriers to practicing medicine in underserved communities.
Student debt is a major source of stress for medical students, residents, and new doctors. loan forgiveness programs, such as Public Service Loan Forgiveness A potential lifeline program for those struggling with student debt. These programs, and others like them, should be expanded at the federal level to improve access to health care in underserved communities, diversify the health care workforce, advance health equity, and address physician shortages. legislation like Reddy’s Law It allows medical students to qualify for an interest-free deferment on their student loans while they are in a residency training program, creating more financial viability for physicians to specialize in family medicine and primary care.
There is also an urgent need to increase investment in federal programs that motivate physicians to practice in rural and medically disadvantaged areas. One example is National Health Service (NHSC), which offers scholarships, loan payments or coverage of the full cost of medical school tuition as incentives for physicians to enter primary care and provide care to Americans in rural and underserved areas. By addressing student debt burdens, the NHSC program helps extend healthcare access to our most vulnerable communities and ensures medical education opportunities for people who may not have thought it affordable.
As a practicing family physician in a rural community, I know that if the government does not motivate students to pursue family medicine and primary care, we will continue to see a severe shortage of physicians in rural and underserved areas – something that we consider to be unsustainable in society. Recent data from the Department of Health Resources and Services shows that the number of people living in the health professional shortage area has increased to more than 95 million people Reaffirm the need to increase targeted federal investment in primary care. More at stake: For individuals who live in many underserved areas, care by a family doctor or primary care physician is often the only option to meet their health care needs.
As our future doctors begin medical school, we hope that our nation’s leaders will enact policy solutions that address the extreme burden of student debt and invest in high-quality primary care, which will improve health outcomes and equity. We need solutions that encourage early-career medical students and clinicians to pursue their hearts and career goals in return for just following the money. We need solutions that enhance the health of each of our communities by facilitating the practice of physicians in underserved areas, and solutions that ensure our healthcare system is equitable for all.
Sterling N. Ranson Jr. is a family physician and president of the American Academy of Family Physicians. The AAFP represents 127,600 physicians and medical students across the country.