Last Thursday, July 10, Missouri’s Governor Jay Nixon signed into law bills that would allow medical school graduates who have not yet completed residency to treat patients in underserved parts of the state. The law will take effect on August 28.
Through a new “assistant physician” license, medical school graduates would be able to treat patients under the supervision of a licensed physician. The graduate must have completed the first two steps of their medical licensing exam, however, and the collaborating physician would be responsible for all services performed by the assistant physician. The temporary license also limits the assistant physician to performing only primary care services and only in underserved rural or urban areas of the state.
The American Academy of Physician Assistants and the American Academy of Family Physicians have both expressed concerns in regards to the new law, citing the potential to jeopardize the identity of physician assistants and to confuse patients regarding healthcare giver roles. Under the legislation, the assistant physician would be required to identify themselves as such, but could also use the title of “doctor”.
Legislation supporters, which include the Missouri State Medical Association, hope the new license will assist the state in efforts to expand care and address the increasing shortage of doctors in many areas.
In signing the law, Governor Nixon noted - “Ensuring that all Missourians have access to adequate health care is a laudable goal, but it is equally important that such measures do not place citizens’ health in jeopardy. Considering that this new category of licensure would make Missouri unique among states and would embark upon unchartered waters in providing health care to Missourians, it is imperative that there be comprehensive and rigorous oversight and regulation of such ‘assisting physicians’.”