White House offers $1.5B to attract new doctors to medically needy areas

Flanked by Dr. Luis Padilla (L), associate Administrator for Health Workforce at Health Resources and Services Administration, and U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy (R), Vice President Kamala Harris speaks about Covid-19 vaccine equity in the South Court Auditorium at the White House complex November 22, 2021 in Washington, DC. The White House announced Monday a $1.5 billion initiative aimed at shoring up healthcare access in rural and underserved areas. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
Flanked by Dr. Luis Padilla (L), associate Administrator for Health Workforce at Health Resources and Services Administration, and U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy (R), Vice President Kamala Harris speaks about Covid-19 vaccine equity in the South Court Auditorium at the White House complex November 22, 2021 in Washington, DC. The White House announced Monday a $1.5 billion initiative aimed at shoring up healthcare access in rural and underserved areas. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images) Photo credit Getty Images

With a $1.5 billion investment announced Monday by U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris, the Biden administration hopes to grow and diversify the nation’s health care workforce in “communities that need it most.”

According to the White House, the investment is also intended to “bolster equitable health care,” both as the country continues to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic and in the future. Funding, which is provided through the American Rescue Plan, will support over 22,700 health care providers.

Awards will support the National Health Service Corps, Nurse Corps, and Substance Use Disorder Treatment and Recovery programs, which address workforce shortages and health disparities by providing scholarship and loan repayment funding for health care students and professionals. Recipients are required to complete a service commitment in hard-hit and high-risk communities.

National Health Service Corps and Nurse Corps clinicians serve more than 23.6 million patients in the U.S. Throughout the pandemic, thousands of health providers from the programs have cared for COVID-19 patients, supported the mental health of their communities and have administered COVID-19 tests, treatments and vaccines.

Compared to the 7 percent of physicians in the U.S. who identify as Black or Hispanic/Latino, more than 25 percent of the physicians serving through the National Health Service Corps identify as Black or Hispanic/Latino.
This is much closer to the 31 percent of our nation’s population that those groups represent.

A 2018 study found that having more Black doctors could reduce a gap between Black and white cardiovascular mortality in men. Last year, a Kaiser Family Foundation poll also found that many Black Americans distrust the health care system.

“The mobilization of these providers is a critical step towards addressing racial and ethnic disparities in health outcomes and expanding the representation of these communities in health care professions,” said the White House.

In addition to improving racial equity both for those who want to enter the medical field and for patients, the investment should mitigate an overall projected shortage of health care professionals over the next decade.

This shortage is expected to include 60,000 primary care doctors, dentists, and psychiatrists. To keep up with the need for nurses, an estimated 158,000 new nurses also need to graduate every year for the rest of the decade.

A lack of primary care physicians has impacted the nation’s health amid the COVID-19 pandemic. According to The Washington Post, this shortage hindered testing, treating and educating patients about the coronavirus and the vaccines.

“Here’s the truth: COVID-19 did not invent health care disparity,” said Harris Monday. “Ask any health professional and she will tell you, health disparities existed long before this virus reached our shores.”

Student debt is a “substantial barrier in meeting these health care needs,” said the White House. Graduate health education can average more than $200,000 per student, a figure that blocks students from underserved communities from even considering a career in health care.

In an effort to break down this barrier, President Joe Biden’s administration also plans to award $330 million in American Rescue Plan funding for Teaching Health Center Graduate Medical Education. This additional funding is intended to further support the expansion of the primary care physician and dental workforce in underserved communities.