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Barton Blog / Healthcare News and Trends

Assistant Physicians Play a Vital Role for Healthcare in Rural Communities

Posted on: September 26, 2019

Luke2

written by

Luke Curtis, MD, MS

Missouri Intext

Various studies have estimated the projected physician shortage of between 85,000 and 200,000 physicians in the next decade. This shortage is especially pervasive in rural areas. In spite of this physician shortage, the number of residency positions in the United States has remained near constant throughout the past decade. Only 30,132 residency positions were available for 41,334 MDs/DOs who applied in 2015.

To help relieve the severe shortage of rural physicians, in 2014 Missouri was the first in the nation to create a new category of physician called “assistant physicians”. More recently, Utah, Arkansas, and Kansas have also started similar “assistant physician” programs.

The term assistant physician refers to a physician who has graduated as an MD from an accredited university and passed the 4 USMLE Exams, but has not yet entered into postgraduate residency training. It is important to realize that “assistant physicians” are different from “physician assistants” (PAs). 

Although many PAs are performing well, assistant physicians have more training than PAs: physician assistants complete a two-year program of study and have to pass one licensing exam. Assistant physicians complete a four-year medical program and then pass four USMLE Medical Licensing exams. 

Similar to PAs who require a physician collaborator, “assistant physicians” must operate under the supervisor of a certified MD. 

Since introduced in 2014, assistant physicians have been playing a vital role in the healthcare of many rural areas, especially combating the primary care physician shortage in those communities. In 2017, 24 assistant physicians were practicing in underserved Missouri counties, with several hundred more assistant physicians expected to be serving in Missouri by 2020.

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Luke Curtis, MD, MS
About Luke Curtis, MD, MS

Luke Curtis MD, MS is a medical writer and researcher who lives in Manchester, Missouri.  He has an MD degree and an MS degree in public health Magna Cum Laude.  He has 20 years of research in a wide range of topics including indoor/outdoor air quality, occupational medicine, allergy, nutrition, cancer, and infection control. Luke has published 96 medical journal papers and conference proceedings. These papers have been cited over 1,700 times in other peer reviewed journals.

Dr. Curtis has also been an official reviewer/referee for over 125 medical journal papers. He also has written several hundred popular medical articles and wrote medical columns for every issue of the Human Ecologist for 25 years. He published his Elder Nutrition book in 2010 and has given 14 oral presentations and radio interviews on nutrition for older folks.

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