Plan Approved to Expand Physician Residencies and Fellowships in Arkansas

The Arkansas Legislative Council on Friday (June 18) approved nearly $12.5 million in funding to expand physician residencies and fellowships in Arkansas.

Washington Regional Medical Center and University of Arkansas Medical Sciences (UAMS) Northwest Regional Campus developed a plan through a process called “geographic wage classification” to establish up to 92 new graduate medical education positions at Washington Regional by 2030. The first 10 residency slots will be available in 2023.

“Arkansas currently produces more medical students than there are residency positions available in the state,” said Larry Shackelford, Washington Regional Medical Center president and CEO. “Nearly 200 of the medical students graduating from Arkansas schools leave the state each year for residencies in other states and that number is expected to increase.”

Northwest Arkansas has grown rapidly since Congress imposed caps on medical resident reimbursement. A health care study commissioned by the Northwest Arkansas Council in 2019 recommended the establishment of 200 additional residencies.

Washington Regional has plans for residency programs in internal medicine, emergency medicine, neurology, family medicine, general surgery and transitional year. Fellowships will be created in cardiology, infectious disease, nephrology, pulmonary and critical care medicine.

Arkansas currently ranks No. 49 in the nation in active physicians per 100,000 people and No. 37 in active primary care physicians per 100,000 physicians.

“The vast majority, about 81%, of physicians choose to practice medicine in the area where they received their residency training,” said Pearl McElfish, vice chancellor of the UAMS Northwest Regional Campus. “This prudent action by the legislature will help close the physician gap in Arkansas.”

The Council study projected the new residency training programs will have an estimated economic impact of $715,000 per medical resident on an annual basis. At full capacity of 92 new residents, the programs have a projected annual economic impact of $65.8 million.

“Expanding graduate medical education in Arkansas will increase the number of available physicians, expand access to health care and provide education and jobs to graduates, all while stimulating the economy by keeping health care spending in the state,” said Nelson Peacock, Northwest Arkansas Council president and CEO. “We are grateful to Washington Regional and UAMS Northwest for leading the charge on this important initiative and Gov. Asa Hutchinson, Sen. Jonathan Dismang and the Arkansas Legislative Council for supporting this endeavor. We look forward to ongoing efforts to expand graduate medical education throughout the state.”