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Rural Healthcare Workforce Shortages Defy Easy Solutions

John Commins, for HealthLeaders Media, February 27, 2013

With the clock ticking on sequestration and its cuts to healthcare funding, it seems callous to pile onto rural providers with more gray news.

And yet, lost this week amid the lead-story brouhaha over the self-inflicted wounds administered by our federal elected officials were two items that illustrate the challenges of bringing physicians to rural America.

First, the New York Times reported that a 15-member commission created more than two years under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and charged with assessing the needs of nation's healthcare workforce has never met because funding hasn't been allocated.

Of course, nobody expected the National Health Care Workforce Commission would solve the problems of recruiting and retaining physicians and other clinicians into underserved areas. And the federal government is doing other things to encourage physicians to settle in underserved areas with debt-relief programs such as the National Health Service Corps.

However, a high-profile commission could have raised public awareness about these chronic, widespread and growing clinician shortages in rural areas.

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