Lawmakers discuss physician shortage, remedial education

BISMARCK—North Dakota is projected to be short about 210 physicians by 2025, state lawmakers were told Wednesday.

As a result, the University of North Dakota School of Medicine and Health Sciences will ask the Legislature for more money this coming session to address the problem.

School officials presented a list of recommendations to lawmakers on the interim Higher Education Committee.

The school would like to add 16 additional medical student slots per year, 30 additional health sciences students and 17 additional residency slots.

Officials also would like a new health sciences building and want to create a geriatrics training program. Another recommendation is offering a master of public health degree in conjunction with North Dakota State University.

David Molmen, chairman of the medical school’s advisory council, said the state’s aging population and associated medical needs mean there has to be larger medical classes to meet demand.

Students who attend medical school in North Dakota and complete their residency in the state are more likely to stay in the state to practice, said Joshua Wynne, dean of the School of Medicine and Health Sciences.

“It’s essential to retain more of our own, to try to get as many of our students to train in North Dakota and stay in North Dakota,” he said.

A new health sciences building is No. 5 on the North Dakota University System’s 2011-13 list of major capital project priorities. The building is estimated to cost $28.9 million. Additional funding would be needed to grow the school’s programs.

Sen. Tim Flakoll, R-Fargo, asked how many students are now turned away from the school each year. Wynne said there are five applicants for every one student accepted.

He said the school could increase class size by 16 medical students and still maintain the high level of students graduating now. There is also “substantial interest” from health care systems to expand residency opportunities, he said.

The proposals will be discussed further during the legislative session.

In other business, lawmakers approved a bill draft to research remedial education in the state. About 30 percent of North Dakota students entering college need remedial education, Sen. David Nething, R-Jamestown, said.

If approved, the study would look at where students needing remedial education graduate from, as well as the causes for it. The research would include a review of efforts to reduce the number of remedial education students at colleges.

The study would also look at the alignment of elementary and high school curriculum and textbooks with college admissions standards. A report would then be prepared for the 2013 Legislature.

The bill will now go forward to the 2011 Legislature for approval.