The Arkansas Legislative Council on Friday approved nearly $12.5 million in funding to establish up to 92 new graduate medical education positions at Washington Regional Medical Center by 2030.
Washington Regional and the University of Arkansas Medical Sciences Northwest Regional Campus developed the plan for these new positions, which will help them fight outmigration — people in a community seeking health care elsewhere — in a state where residency slots are limited because there are fewer physicians per capita to serve as teachers.
The new residencies will be in internal medicine, emergency medicine, neurology, family medicine, general surgery and transitional year. The new fellowships will be in cardiology, infectious disease, nephrology, pulmonary and critical care medicine.
The residency program also received a $750,000 grant in September; the first 10 slots will be available in 2023.
"Arkansas currently produces more medical students than there are residency positions available in the state," Washington Regional CEO and President Larry Shackleford said in a news release. "Nearly 200 of the medical students graduating from Arkansas schools leave the state each year for residencies in other states and that number is expected to increase."
"The vast majority, about 81%, of physicians choose to practice medicine in the area where they received their residency training," added Pearl McElfish, vice chancellor of the UAMS Northwest Regional Campus. "This prudent action by the legislature will help close the physician gap in Arkansas."
A study commissioned by the Northwest Arkansas Council in 2019 recommended the establishment of 200 new residencies that were projected to have an estimated economic impact of $715,000 per medical resident on an annual basis. At full capacity, the residency programs have a projected annual economic impact of $65.8 million.
"Expanding graduate medical education in Arkansas will increase the number of available physicians, expand access to health care and provide education and jobs to graduates, all while stimulating the economy by keeping health care spending in the state," said Nelson Peacock, Northwest Arkansas Council president and CEO.
He thanked the hospitals, Gov. Asa Hutchinson, state Sen. Jonathan Dismang, R-Beebe, and the Arkansas Legislative Council for supporting the effort.