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Kaine, Padilla Introduce Bill to Support Medical Schools in Underserved Areas, Strengthen Diversity among Health Care Providers

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Tim Kaine, a member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, joined Senator Alex Padilla (D-CA) in introducing the Expanding Medical Education Act, legislation to address the lack of representation of students of color, rural students, and underserved students in the physician pipeline. Specifically, the bill would encourage the recruitment, enrollment, and retention of students from underrepresented backgrounds, by providing grants through the Health Resources and Services Administration for colleges and universities to establish or expand allopathic (M.D. granting) or osteopathic (D.O. granting) medical schools in underserved areas or at minority-serving institutions, including Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs).

“Communities of color and those living in rural and underserved areas have long faced significant barriers to health care, including a lack of providers that look like them or practice close by,” said Senator Kaine. “Since research shows that physicians are more likely to practice in the areas they’re from, supporting medical schools at minority-serving institutions and HBCUs in underserved areas can help improve care in those communities. This legislation provides a commonsense strategy for how we can deliver that support and improve care for so many Americans.”

“We need to expand opportunities for students of color in medical fields,” said Senator Padilla. “Communities of color have historically been neglected by the medical system and are disproportionately affected by the health care workforce shortage, often lacking access to culturally competent providers. By creating more pathways at minority-serving institutions for diverse groups to enter the health care workforce, the Expanding Medical Education Act would help create a more compassionate and diverse health care environment that better reflects our country.”

The introduction comes as America faces a critical health care workforce shortage. This crisis only worsened during the pandemic, with nearly 1 out of every 5 health care workers having quit their jobs in the first 18 months of the pandemic. The American Medical Association projects that there will be a national shortage of up to 48,000 primary care physicians and 77,100 non-primary care physicians by 2034. An analysis by George Mason University published last year stated that while health care-related careers represent the 3rd fastest growing occupation group in Virginia, projections on the growth of health care professions showed that supply will not meet demand over the next 10 years for many health care occupations including dental, primary care, mental health, and nursing and allied health. The health care workforce shortage is even more dire in rural communities across Virginia.

Specifically, the Expanding Medical Education Act would prioritize grants to institutions of higher education that:

  • Propose to use the funds to establish a medical school or branch campus in an area in which no other such school is based and is a medically underserved community or health professional shortage area.
  • Are minority-serving institutions, including HBCUs.

Entities receiving grants would be required to report to Congress how they use the funding. Eligible uses for the grants include:

  • Planning and construction of a new medical school in an area where no other school is based or a branch campus;
  • Activities to meet the accreditation criteria for a medical school;
  • Hiring diverse faculty and other staff;
  • Recruitment, enrollment, and retention of students, including those from disadvantaged backgrounds, underrepresented racial and ethnic minorities, students from rural and underserved areas, low-income students, and first-generation college students;
  • Supporting educational programs; and,
  • Modernizing and expanding infrastructure.

The legislation has been endorsed by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine (AACOM), Association of American Indian Physicians (AAIP), Association of Clinicians for the Underserved (ACU),  National Hispanic Medical Association (NHMA), Society for Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS), and Ochsner Health.

Full text of the legislation is available here.