Expanding healthcare provider training and access in rural areas

June 14, 2024
Business Affairs
Dr. Marquita Lyons-Smith
Dr. Marquita Lyons-Smith

Most people are aware that the COVID-19 pandemic placed additional strain on the United States’ already stressed healthcare system. Between 2020 and 2021, more than 100,000 nurses left the profession, more than at any other time in the last 40 years. A majority of those were young hospital nurses. When nurses are in short supply, errors increase along with mortality and morbidity. Compounding the problem, the resulting high patient-to-nurse ratio also leads to greater nurse burnout and job dissatisfaction, causing some to pursue travel nursing or take non-clinical roles such as teaching, telenursing consulting, and Informatics, to name a few, or leave the profession altogether. It’s become a vicious cycle.

As bad as the problem is in cities and suburbs, it’s dire in rural areas, where health disparities already affect 46 million people, according to the CDC. Over the past 10 years, 115 rural hospitals have closed across the country. In contrast, only three urban hospitals closed during the same time frame. With rural residents more likely to die from causes such as heart disease, stroke, cancer, and respiratory disease, it’s imperative that the healthcare system takes steps to address the crisis.

What’s being done
Some efforts are being made to improve rural health. Last year, Congress gave the CDC $5 million with instructions to create the Office of Rural Health to coordinate the agency’s programs and “improve the health and well-being of rural communities throughout the U.S.” And in March this year, the bipartisan Community Training, Education, and Access for Medical Students (TEAMS) Act was introduced to “increase training opportunities for medical students in rural, underserved communities.” The TEAMS Act is important because it specifically addresses the need to teach medical students about health challenges in rural communities and encourages them to practice in these areas after graduation. The act calls for approaching the problem from both the institutional side by providing grants through the Health Resources and Service Administration (HRSA), and the student side by getting them ready to address the unique issues faced by high-risk populations. The bill’s third prong will increase medical training locations in rural areas, a win for both sides since the healthcare facilities will receive additional personnel while simultaneously, students training there acquire the kind of education they wouldn’t receive elsewhere.

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