Issue Background

The Nation’s Primary Care Physician and Health Professions Workforce

  • AACOM believes it is more critical than ever to continue the federal investment in cost-effective solutions to address the nation’s physician workforce shortages, particularly in primary care, to meet the increasing demands of an aging and growing population.  
  • AACOM supports sufficient appropriations for HRSA’s Title VII health professions training programs. These programs benefit the health care system far beyond their modest costs, and they are vital to the growth of medical education.
  • AACOM believes that additional resources should be devoted to ongoing health care workforce data production, analysis, and oversight to ensure that investments in the future of health care appropriately address the areas of greatest need.
  • AACOM supports sufficient funding for HRSA’s scholarship and loan repayment programs to help recruit and retain a well-equipped health care workforce in the geographical areas in which they are most needed.

The United States is currently confronting a primary care physician workforce shortage stemming from numerous factors, including population growth and aging; simultaneously, the number of insured Americans continues to increase by approximately 32 million as a result of the Affordable Care Act. Through its health professions workforce development and training programs, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) continues to be vital to help address this shortage, particularly for rural and underserved patient populations across the country. The continuation of sufficient federal funding for these programs is more critical than ever, as the primary care physician shortage is expected to worsen.

Authorized by the Public Health Service Act, HRSA’s Title VII health professions training programs aim to improve education and training opportunities in high-need disciplines and settings, and are unique in their focus to address health care disparities and the needs of medically-underserved communities. These programs support the development of a robust health professions workforce to meet the nation’s essential health care needs. AACOM strongly supports federal health care programs intended to ensure a well-trained workforce to address the nation’s future health care demands, such as the below:

The Primary Care Training and Enhancement (PCTE) Program provides funding to support awards to primary care professionals through grants to hospitals, medical schools, and other entities.

The Rural Physician Training Grants help rural-focused training programs recruit and graduate students most likely to practice medicine in underserved, rural communities.  Health professions workforce shortages are exacerbated in rural areas, where communities struggle to attract and maintain well-trained providers.  According to HRSA, approximately 65% of primary care health professional shortage areas are rural.

The Centers of Excellence (COE) Program is integral to increasing the number of minority youth who pursue careers in the health professions.

The Health Careers Opportunity Program (HCOP) provides students from disadvantaged backgrounds with the opportunity to develop the skills needed to successfully compete, enter, and graduate from health professions schools.

The Scholarships for Disadvantaged Students (SDS) Program provides scholarships to health professions students from disadvantaged backgrounds with financial need, many of whom are underrepresented minorities.

Geriatric Education Centers (GECs) are collaborative arrangements between health professions schools and health care facilities that provide the training of health professions students, faculty, and practitioners in the diagnosis, treatment, prevention of disease, disability, and other health issues.

The Area Health Education Center (AHEC) Program provides funding for interdisciplinary, community-based, primary care training programs. Through a collaboration of medical schools and academic centers, a network of community-based leaders work to improve the distribution, diversity, supply, and quality of health personnel, particularly primary care personnel in the health care services delivery system, specifically in rural and underserved areas. 

The National Health Service Corps (NHSC) supports physicians and other health professionals who practice in health professional shortage areas across the U.S. There are nearly 8,900 primary care clinicians currently providing care in the NHSC.

The Indian Health Service (IHS) Scholarship and Loan Repayment Programs are designed to encourage aspiring and current health care professionals, respectively, to serve in Indian health programs. In particular, the IHS Scholarship Program supports selected American Indian and Alaska Natives to train in and enter the health professions to work to ensure the availability of Indian health professionals to serve Indians. The IHS Loan Repayment Program provides health care professionals the repayment of qualified student loans in exchange for an initial two-year service obligation to practice full-time at an Indian health program site.