Creating a Health Care Workforce Plan for Minnesota

Health care workforce needs are not a new topic of discussion. With an aging population and population growth, the projected demand continues to grow more than supply. Our members voted on a resolution at our 2019 House of Delegates to make this issue a priority, to create a Minnesota Academy of Family Physicians (MAFP) Workforce Task Force to partner with the Minnesota Department of Health, other health care associations in Minnesota, nonprofit stakeholders and more to address health care workforce issues and create a plan to better serve Minnesotans.

Peter Meyers, MD, MPH, co-chairs our MAFP Workforce Task Force. He currently works at West Side Community Health Services and is president of our East Metro Chapter. Meyers shares why family physicians should play a central role in addressing workforce issues in Minnesota.

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I became interested in health care workforce issues in medical school. Around that time, several studies highlighted the looming physician shortage in Minnesota and geographic maldistribution of physicians around the country. It was immediately clear to me that our medical education and health care system were designed to create this exact outcome.

We weren’t producing the right kind of doctors to alleviate the access limitations that many communities were experiencing. And while I was certainly excited about becoming the best clinician I could, I also found myself drawn to the complicated questions about designing a medical education system that would produce a health care workforce that better served the people of Minnesota.

Questions about the health care workforce shortage haven’t changed much in the last decade. The approach to alleviating the projected shortage hasn’t changed much either.

In 2014, Governor Dayton organized the Legislative Health Care Workforce Commission to study this issue extensively. The commission produced a report in December 2016. However, there was no accountability included in the structure of the commission; so, when the legislature flipped and leadership changed in January 2017, there was little appetite to implement the major recommendations put forth by the report.

Similarly, in 2013, the Minnesota Medical Association (MMA) organized a physician workforce task force which produced a valuable report that didn’t have the impact its participants had hoped to achieve.

While our state employees at the Minnesota Department of Health and our legislative representatives are acutely aware of the need for health care workforce reform, there is currently no comprehensive, state-wide plan for attaining the type of health care workforce that would best serve the people of Minnesota AND no single entity or organization charged with overseeing the development of one. This was the TOP recommendation from Governor Dayton’s health care workforce commission in 2016.

Other states around the country have health care workforce committees or boards that receive input from a variety of state agencies and nonprofit organizations to make informed recommendations about how their states should approach a complex issue like creating a health care workforce. Those committees and boards are viewed as authoritative bodies, and their recommendations are often turned into legislation with the help of supportive legislative partners.

It’s time that Minnesota brings together the appropriate stakeholders on this complicated issue to create a comprehensive, state-wide plan for a health care workforce that addresses the needs of our communities. I also believe that the MAFP can play a critical role in the creation of a new state-wide health care workforce plan.

Family physicians are at the center of primary care workforce issues in MINNESOTA:

  • Family medicine is the primary physician specialty providing primary care to the people of Minnesota.
  • Family physicians work with a large percentage of the health care workforce. By nature, family medicine is a collaborative specialty. In my primary care clinic alone, I work with internists, pediatricians, physician assistants, nurse practitioners, certified nurse midwives, medical assistants, registered nurses, pharmacists, psychiatric nurse practitioners, health navigators, behavioral health counselors, chemical dependency counselors, health educators, registered dietitians, chiropractors, optometrists and dentists on a daily basis. And, that’s not to mention all of the referral pathways we have to our specialist colleagues.

The MAFP has put together a task force to build on the work done by Governor Dayton’s health care workforce commission and the MMA, to partner with the Minnesota Department of Health and nonprofit stakeholders and continue this discussion about a more sophisticated, coordinated effort to create a state-wide health care workforce plan for the people of Minnesota.

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