Daily Press (Sunday)

Sentara working to solve the physician shortage in Virginia

- By Jordan Asher Jordan Asher, M.D., M.S. of Norfolk is executive vice president and chief clinical officer at Sentara Health.

In a recent column (“The doctor residency shortage continues to cost lives,”

Nov 18), Dr. Glenn McDermott highlighte­d two acute issues facing our medical system: a lack of residency positions available compared to the number of those graduating from medical schools and a physician shortage that is expected to continue to expand.

A recent report by the National Resident Matching Program found that while there were nearly 43,000 residency applicants, there were just 40,375 residency positions available in 2023 — leaving more than

2,500 hopeful practicing doctors without an option This gap has only widened in recent years, as the number of medical school graduates has increased without a parallel growth in residency slots which are needed to train the students.

Additional­ly, the Associatio­n of American Medical Colleges reported the U.S. health care system could face a “shortage of between 37,800 and 124,000 physicians by 2034.” An estimated 35% of the physician workforce will reach retirement age in the next five years, and there is a mismatch of physicians entering practice that are representa­tive of the communitie­s in greatest need of service. We at Sentara Health recognize that these are stark and concerning challenges and are actively working to be part of the solution in several ways.

Over the next several years, we are more than doubling our 220 residency program positions across all markets we serve, including the addition of positions in rural communitie­s. This will directly increase the number of residency positions available to medical school graduates in Virginia. This growth is critical to increasing the number of physicians available to serve all those in need, as residents tend to remain in the communitie­s they train.

Increasing Residency Positions: Improving Collaborat­ion with Academic Institutio­ns:

Sentara’s long-standing relationsh­ip with and support of Eastern Virginia Medical School is a strong example of Sentara’s commitment to offering better care to patients and expanding the number of doctors and other licensed medical profession­als serving our communitie­s. EVMS is keenly focused on these issues and has done a tremendous job of not only increasing the number of health profession­als it graduates, but also its focus on diversity and inclusion.

Sentara has been a partner to and participat­ing supporter of the effort to integrate EVMS and Old Dominion University. This integratio­n is centered around creating a combined health sciences program, which would be the largest in the commonweal­th. A combined EVMS and ODU health sciences center would offer students 56 different health sciences programs, including 18 programs not offered anywhere else in Virginia. Another example of filling the needs of those in the community is the focus on public health. Our commitment to the newly created ONE School of Public Health between ODU, Norfolk State University and EVMS is in service to delivering on our mission to improve health every day.

Supporting A Diverse Health Care Workforce:

Earlier this year, Sentara invested nearly $4 million into two pipeline programs aimed at expanding opportunit­ies and supporting students pursuing careers in the medical and health sciences fields. As part of this investment, Sentara contribute­d more than $3 million to Sentara Scholars, a program designed to provide financial support to students already enrolled in health care and health care-related programs. The goal is to help remove financial barriers — and the related stress that comes with them — and enable students of all means to focus on furthering their education.

Sentara also invested $775,000 in Project CHOICE, a program which helps interested students gain exposure to and experience in health sciences programs. This investment will assist approximat­ely 500 students across 10 organizati­ons and academic institutio­ns in Virginia.

Sentara Health is keenly focused on and committed to its mission to improve health every day by supporting our state in the pursuit of enhancing the numbers of trained and licensed profession­als to care for our growing population for years to come in a manner that is holistic and for all and represents the wonderful diversity that resides within the commonweal­th. Let us work together as a community, for the community.

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