The Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee held a Feb. 16 hearing, titled “Examining Health Care Workforce Shortages: Where Do We Go From Here?” In a statement submitted for the record, the AAMC emphasized the need for an increase in Medicare-supported Graduate Medical Education (GME) positions, and robust investment in the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) Title VII health professions and Title VIII nursing workforce development programs. The hearing and the AAMC statement both focused on the importance of investing in federal health workforce programs and increasing health workforce diversity to help improve provider shortages and health outcomes.
In his opening remarks, HELP committee Chair Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) noted that the country will continue to face a shortage of up to 124,000 doctors over the next decade. He recognized the disproportionate impact that these shortages have on historically marginalized communities and emphasized the importance of increasing the number of African American, Latin, and Native American health providers. Sanders illustrated how the cap on Medicare-supported GME positions further exacerbates the health workforce pathway problem and expressed support for GME expansion. He also called for substantial funding for the National Health Service Corps (NHSC), the Teaching Health Centers Graduate Medical Education (THCGME) program, and the Nurse Corps and Nurse Loan Repayment program. Sanders committed to crafting legislation to address the health workforce issues discussed.
Ranking Member Bill Cassidy, MD, (R-La.) acknowledged the burden that the COVID-19 pandemic has placed on our health workforce and also called for the reauthorization and funding for the NHSC, the THCGME program, and the Children’s Hospital GME program. “It is important that funding for these programs is extended on time, in a bipartisan fashion, with the appropriate spending offsets,” he said. Cassidy concluded his remarks acknowledging the witnesses’ “innovative ideas on how hospitals and academic institutions can support the pipeline of health professionals.”
Hearing witnesses included James Herbert, PhD, president of the University of New England; James Hildreth, PhD, MD, president and CEO of Meharry Medical College; Sarah Szanton, PhD, RN, FAAN, dean of the Johns Hopkins School of Nursing; Leonardo Seoane, MD, FACP, chief academic officer at Ochsner Health; and Douglas Staiger, PhD, professor at Dartmouth College. AAMC was present at the hearing in support of the issue and of our members testifying.
Hildreth’s testimony underscored the seriousness of diversifying the health care workforce and investing in pathway programs and the health workforce infrastructure, especially for Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). He touted the strength of HBCUs and their contributions to training the health workforce, illustrating how HBCUs already play an important role in addressing the health workforce shortages by training providers who often go to rural and underserved communities. Hildreth asked for investments in HBCU medical school facilities and infrastructure, and robust funding for the HRSA workforce programs, including the NHSC, the THCGME, and the Community Health Centers program.
In her testimony, Szanton focused on the nursing workforce shortages and called for investment in the Nurse Corps, the Nurse Loan Repayment program, and other HRSA Title VIII nursing workforce development programs. She also stressed the importance of safe work environments, career development, and addressing faculty shortages.
Dr. Seoane’s testimony also cited the AAMC workforce report and focused on GME, nursing shortages, pathway programs, and partnerships with community colleges. His testimony also stressed a commitment to diversifying the health workforce and suggested innovative programs to addressing these inequities.
The hearing was widely attended by HELP committee members on both sides of the aisle who actively engaged in questions to the witnesses. Several committee members also focused on additional AAMC priorities, including bolstering the public health workforce, telehealth, the K-12 and community college pathways, student loan repayment and immigration reform to address health workforce shortages.