NASHVILLE — A bill designed to increase the number of primary care physicians in Tennessee’s rural communities was approved by the General Assembly today. Senate Bill 298, sponsored by Senator Richard Briggs (R-Knoxville), establishes residency opportunities focusing on family practice, general pediatrics, internal medicine and psychiatry to provide medical and behavioral health services in Tennessee’s underserved and distressed rural counties.
“Over the past 25 years, the population of Tennessee has doubled, but the number of primary care physician residencies remains frozen at the same amount because of the lack of federal funding since 1996,” said Sen. Briggs, who is a physician. “Under this legislation, rural hospitals and community health centers will have access to these residents which has been needed for a long time. When these physicians settle in our rural communities, they bring not only improved health care to area citizens, but they also bring great economic benefit. It also incentivizes physicians to stay in these rural communities after they complete their residencies.”
Briggs said approximately 60% to 70% of doctors stay in the communities where they train. Current workforce projections show Tennessee with a doctor shortage of 1,050 by 2025.
The residencies will be open to all graduates of University of Tennessee schools, Meharry Medical College and Vanderbilt University. Residents will be approved by the National Accreditation Agency for Graduate Medical Education (GME). The program requires the residencies be open to all qualified candidates and filled through the existing matching process employed by the GME. In addition, the bill establishes residencies through Lincoln Memorial University which offers osteopathic medicine instruction. The new residencies will be distributed across all grand divisions of the state. Both programs will be conducted in cooperation with the Tennessee Department of Health and the Tennessee Higher Education Commission (THEC).
The 2021-2022 state budget passed last week by the legislature provided an increase of $5.5 million to fund the residencies. The legislation now goes to Governor Bill Lee’s desk for his signature.