Missouri Governor Jay Nixon signed into law a bill allowing medical-school graduates who have not entered into a residency program to act as “assistant physicians,” a measure expected to bring primary care to rural areas currently lacking medical care. In 2013, The Show-Me State was listed as one of the country’s 10 most medically underserved states, Medscape reports.
Assistant physicians must have passed the first two sections of the state licensing exam and will be required to work under the close supervision of a licensed physician for 30 days. Following that period of time, they will be free to work more independently in settings up to 50 miles away. They will also have the ability to prescribe Schedule III, IV, and V medications.
The Red Ribbon Blog first covered this story in early July, when the bill was awaiting the governor’s signature. Since then, the measure has garnered both praise and criticism from various medical professional groups.
Jeffrey Howell, bill proponent and general counsel for the Missouri State Medical Association—a group that helped draft the legislation—told Medscape, “Patients in [rural] areas aren’t getting any care now. Our attitude is that some care is better than no care. We hope this law will be a trailblazer for other states.”
Thomas Nasca, MD, CEO of the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education, disagrees with the idea of assistant physicians. “I don’t underestimate the challenges we face in delivering care to rural populations and the urban poor,” he says. “But to provide inadequate care is no solution. There is a dramatic difference between a medical-school graduate and a doctor trained in a residency program.”
According to a FOX News article, roughly one-fifth of Missouri’s residents lack adequate access to medical care.