In the United States, the physician shortage is most significantly felt in rural areas where nearly 20 percent of the U.S. population has access to only 10 percent of U.S. physicians. By 2025, the U.S. Government Accountability Office predicts a deficit of 20,000 physicians in the rural U.S.

This impact is especially felt by states with large rural areas, such as Arizona. The state ranks 44th in the country for physicians per capita and nearly 40 percent of the state’s population lives in communities with a healthcare worker shortage. This impact is most acute in the state’s Native American populations, where accessing healthcare on large reservations remains a large systemic issue.

Long in need to address this issue, Arizona has been a leading state in progressive healthcare worker measures. Currently, nurse practitioners are able to practice without physician oversight and the state’s licensing board recognizes medical licenses from every U.S. state.

Now, a new bill introduced to the Arizona State Senate seeks to take this progress even further. Senate Bill 1331 (SB1331) would allow foreign-trained doctors licensed in countries with similar residency standards to the U.S. to immediately practice in Arizona.

The current list of countries includes Australia, Hong Kong, Ireland, Israel, New Zealand, Singapore, South Africa, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and Canada and would allow for those trained at top residency programs in India, Brazil, or Germany to apply for recognition from Arizona’s medical licensing board. The bill also leaves open the opportunity for more countries to be added later.

While the bill is open to foreign-trained doctors practicing in these countries, it would help qualify physicians already living in the state but working below their level of medical training. This makes the law one of the most progressive in the U.S. that utilizes foreign-trained talent, ahead of similar laws in states like Washington (which requires further licensing) and New York (which is limited to telehealth workers from out of state or Canada).

Introduced by state Senator Nancy Barto in January 2022, the bill sets a precedent for the removal of bureaucratic barriers and regulations in helping limit the impact of the physician shortage already hurting rural areas in the U.S.

As of writing, the SB1331 is in committee, and it is unclear when a vote is expected on the measure. If passed, the law would go into effect after December 31, 2022.

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