Missouri law would let medical school grads skip residency: 5 things to know

A new Missouri law allows medical school graduates to bypass residency programs to start treating patients in areas suffering from the physician shortage. However, the law is under heightening criticism as delays in its implementation are expected to roll into next year, according to the Associated Press.

Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon (D) signed the measure into law in July 2014. The law aims to turn out more primary care physicians faster in medically underserved areas by eliminating the requirement for the three to six years of traditional residency programs. Once the legislation is put into operation, supporters believe it will be adopted by states beyond the Midwest. So far, Arkansas and Kansas have enacted similar measures, and Oklahoma is considering something similar. However, critics don't see the law as an effective solution to the physician shortage, which affects 6,200 regions in the U.S., according to HHS.

Here are five things to know about the law and critics' opposition to it.

1. Edmond Cabbabe, MD, a plastic surgeon in St. Louis, designed the law.

2. Under the law, medical school graduates can obtain an "assistant physician" license, defined as an individual who "graduated from medical school within the past three years and passed the first two rounds of licensing exams within the last two years, but has not completed a residency program," according to AP.

3. As long as they are under a physician's supervision, assistant physicians can provide primary care services to patients in regions that lack medical providers. Medical school graduates can serve as assistant physicians indefinitely.

4. Although the law was passed in Missouri 18 months ago, state regulators are still trying to actualize it — not one medical school graduate has begun practicing as an assistant physician so far.

"You've got the need for services on one hand, and you've got a group of people that are capable of providing those services. But we're not making it happen," said Keith Frederick, DO, an orthopedic surgeon and Missouri House member who sponsored the law.

5. Some of the nation's most influential medical associations oppose the law, including the American Medical Association, which withholds support for any proposal that allows medical school graduates to attain special licensing without completing a residency program. The Association of American Medical Colleges and the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine also stand against the Missouri law, saying medical school doesn't adequately prepare physician to start immediately start practicing.

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