Arizona is facing a critical physician shortage. In 2020, nearly 40% of residents lived in communities with healthcare shortages and our state ranks 44th out of 50 in the number of primary care physicians per capita. And this problem will only get worse—in 2030, Arizona is projected to have 2,000 fewer doctors than we need. With our booming economy attracting new people every day, the legislature must ensure access to healthcare.
This is why I introduced Senate Bill 1331, International Physicians; extending rural coverage, a bill that would allow high-quality, internationally trained physicians to practice in Arizona. Under current law, practicing physicians who completed their residency in another country must repeat their training in the United States to work. By changing this requirement, we can attract more doctors to treat patients in our state.
If a doctor completed comparable training in another country, they need not repeat a residency to relearn the same skills. Residency is a notoriously grueling time in a doctor’s career. Hours are long, pay is low, and the tasks can be menial. It’s hard to imagine an experienced and successful doctor overseas wanting to repeat this training, especially since they became doctors to treat patients, not jump through bureaucratic hoops.
One of the root causes of the physician shortage is the lack of residency slots. In 2021, more than 2,200 American medical school students and graduates were not placed in a residency program. We have more U.S. medical school graduates than we do residency slots, so it is not practical to require physicians who are already trained to take up one of those coveted slots.
The United States has acknowledged the similar standards of residency programs of our neighbors up North. Doctors who complete their programs in Canada can apply for positions in Arizona without repeating residency. Notably, Canada extends the same recognition to residencies completed in the America, plus other countries like the United Kingdom, Singapore, and Australia. If the United States accepts Canada, and Canada accepts these other countries, it seems practical that we would also extend that recognition.
Senate Bill 1331 does just that. It requires the Arizona Medical Board to recognize residencies from countries that have similar training standards to the United States and are already accepted by Canada. Under the reform, a top doctor from Switzerland, for example, who marries an American and legally moves to Arizona will no longer have to change professions or spend years repeating their residency.
The bill also allows top medical residency programs from across the world to apply for recognition from the board. A strong residency program in India, Brazil, or Germany can apply to the board for recognition and, if approved, could send graduates who have visas to provide care in healthcare shortage areas to work in rural Arizona right away.
Additionally, the bill also creates a third pathway for trained physicians to practice in Arizona. Those who receive an offer of employment from a local healthcare provider can obtain a provisional license to practice medicine from the board. The provisional status transitions to a full license after one year so long as the physician provides quality medical care during the provisional period.
The physician shortage in Arizona will not be solved with one bill. However, it need not be exacerbated by unnecessary government regulation. By removing bureaucratic hurdles, the legislature can welcome qualified doctors who want to serve our families, friends, and neighbors and ensure that all Arizonans have access to a healthcare provider.
Nancy K. Barto, R- Phoenix, represents district 15. She assumed office on January 11, 2021. Her term ends on January 9, 2023. She previously served in the state Senate from 2011 to 2019. She served in the state House from 2007 to 2011.