New Law Allows Med School Grads to Work as ‘Assistant Physicians’

Medical school graduates who have not completed their residency training will be allowed to practice medicine thanks to a bill that was signed into law in Missouri in July.

The new law, which did not come without opposition, will give students who have not yet passed the final exam needed to gain their credential the opportunity to treat patients as Assistant Physicians in underserved primary-care settings. In the role, Assistant Physicians will work in medically underserved rural or urban areas of the state or in any pilot project areas and only be allowed to provide primary-care services.

The new legislation comes in an effort to east the physician shortage in underserved areas where residents have limited access to care. Last year, the federal government listed Missouri as one of the ten most medically undeserved states in the country.

Considering that this new category of licensure would make Missouri unique among states and would embark upon uncharted waters in providing health for Missourians, it is imperative that there be comprehensive and rigorous oversight and regulation of such ‘assistant physician,” wrote Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon.

According to one press release, “these doctors would be supervised on site by a collaborative physician for 30 days. After that, they could treat patients without direct supervision in settings 50 miles away and will be able to prescribe Schedule III, IV, and V drugs.

In June, the American medical Association’s (AMA) House of Delegates resolved to “oppose special licensing pathways for physicians who are not currently enrolled in an Accredited Council for Graduate Medical Education or American Osteopathic Association training program, and have not completed at least 1 year of accredited postgraduate U.S. medical education.”

Despite tons of strong opposition, members of the Missouri State Medical Association strongly disagree. “The opposition puzzles me. The physician shortage in Missouri is so bad that communities with 2,000 to 5,000 people barely have access to a doctor one day a week. And they share that doctor with 2 or 3 communities. The new rules are no different than those for older doctors who didn’t have to go through a residency program. They just graduated from medical school and began treating patients,” Jeffrey Howell, the MSMA’s general counsel and government relations director. “It says a lot about the medical establishment that they think people who graduate medical school are incapable of caring for patients while they’re being supervised in a collaborative relationship,” Howell said. “We have 6 medical schools in Missouri. Even if 5 or 6 doctors didn’t get a residency match, that’s 25-30 providers who can help.”