man wearing blue scrub suit and mask sitting on bench

New Jersey Looks to Expand Pool of Medical Professionals

New Jersey’s lawmakers are looking for ways to shore up the state’s medical industry by enlisting help from non-conventional means, including changes to medical education limits and allowing more doctors on visits to practice.

The New Jersey Department of Health reported the pandemic had not yet peaked in New Jersey as of early April, with the expectation it would worsen in the coming weeks.

Menendez, Sires Call for More Doctors

Sen. Bob Menendez and Rep. Albio Sires joined a bicameral and bipartisan coalition of lawmakers in calling on U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to temporarily relax rules regarding doctors on visas.

The call, which specifically asked to waive restrictions that prevent doctors on certain employment-based visas from providing medical care beyond locations specifically approved as part of their immigration status, would extend the pool of doctors available to fight the coronavirus to include workers on H-1B and J-1 visas.

The Conrad 30 program allows doctors on visas who are training in the U.S. to remain in the country without returning home every two years as is the typical process. Instead of renewing their visa or green card application, the doctors agree to serve an underserved, often rural, area for three years. Thirty doctors per state can participate in the program.

“State and local governments as well as healthcare providers have found that the site-specificity for work authorization has prevented physicians holding an H-1B or J-1 status from transferring to hospitals and facilities that are overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients or are experiencing staff shortages due to quarantine requirements,” the lawmakers wrote.

Gottheimer, Pascrell Address State Doctor Shortage

The move follows calls from Reps. Josh Gottheimer and Bill Pascrell to address a doctor shortage in New Jersey are part of upcoming coronavirus relief. The duo said increasing graduate medical education slots could help alleviate the staffing burden hitting the state’s hospitals amid the pandemic.

The Representatives argued an arbitrary cap on the number of slots, determined by an outdated calculation, was pushing many physicians to other states as New Jersey’s medical programs lack the authority to train more.

“This arbitrary cap has made it difficult for a handful of hospitals across the country to train new physicians and grow their health care workforce,” Rep. Gottheimer and Rep. Pascrell wrote in a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal. “Because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, our hospitals need every available resource to ensure workforce needs are met.”

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