Mississippi’s new Office of Physician Workforce should broaden supply of PCPs in rural areas
Mississippi lawmakers recently joined the charge to bring more physicians to the state, approving $1.5 million in an incredibly tight budget year to create the Office of Physician Workforce (OPW).
The main goals of the office are to research and determine which parts of the state have the greatest need for physicians and to create additional medical residency programs outside Jackson.
“This office will be a think tank,” said William Jones, MD, president of the Mississippi Academy of Family Physicians. “Mississippi obviously has a problem; just look at the population to physician ratio. So let’s see how we can handle it.”
Jones, who has practiced family medicine in Greenwood for 35 years, said Mississippi is one of the most medically underserved states in the nation, with the lowest per-capita primary care physician (PCP) supply in the country. According to studies conducted by the University of Mississippi Medical Center (UMMC), half of its graduates who leave Mississippi for residency never return to the state to practice. So keeping physicians in state for post-graduate training is critical, said Jones.
“(UMMC) has expanded its program to deliver more medical student graduates and so now, we need more post-graduate opportunities for these students coming out of school, “ said Jones. “We must keep them in Mississippi for residency.”
Nuts and Bolts
According to a statement released by Gov. Phil Bryant’s office, the OPW will oversee physician workforce development needs by:
- Supporting the creation of primary care residency programs in the state, including the awarding of state financial support for creation of these programs;
- Encouraging the development of an adequate and geographically distributed physician workforce in all specialties with an evolving strategic plan;
- Assessing the current numbers, ages, types of practice, hospital affiliations and geographic distribution of physicians in each medical society in Mississippi;
- Assessing the current and future physician workforce needs of the state;
- Providing an annual report to the governor, legislators, the state Board of Health and the board of trustees of the Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning on the current status of the physician workforce and training programs in the state.
Genesis of OPW
State Rep. Sam C. Mims V (R-McComb), who introduced House Bill 317 that created the OPW, said bringing more residency programs and physicians to the state will improve not only healthcare, but also economic development and job growth.
“When a physician locates to a community, they bring a physician’s salary, buy a home and start a family,” Mims said. “They also open practices and hire nurses and staff members. New physicians create jobs for others. It’s critical for economic development.”
For five years, Mims worked as a physician recruiter for Southwest Mississippi Regional Hospital in McComb, where he saw firsthand how difficult it is to lure physicians to rural parts of the state.
“It’s no secret that there’s a critical need for additional doctors in the state, and statistics show that most physicians permanently locate where they’re trained,” he said. “This office and the additional residency opportunities for medical doctors and osteopathic doctors will be instrumental in answering the healthcare needs of our citizens. We’re proud to have a part in its establishment.”
Mims said plans are underway now to expand residency programs across the state, starting at Forrest General Hospital in Hattiesburg.
“Forrest General appears to be ready from a structural, community and administrative standpoint. For these reasons, it looks like they’ll be the first hospital to upstart a residency program,” Mims said. “Forrest General has been working closely with the (UMMC) in Jackson to get the program running.”
Mims hopes within the next five years, residency programs will begin in other areas of the state. He stressed that so far, no concerns have been raised by medical centers that neighbor these new teaching centers, such as Wesley Medical Center in Hattiesburg.
“We’ve had no push back from other hospitals,” Mims said. “I think all hospitals, and everyone, realize that there is a critical need to expand residency programs and that we will all benefit from this.”