For the past couple of years, the UNM Health Sciences Center has been the steward of health care work force data collection, which was mandated by the legislature to keep tabs on the needs of New Mexico in that area. Today, HSC Executive Vice Chancellor Richard Larson reported for the Health Care Work Force task force before the interim Legislative Health and Human Services Committee.

Current shortages are readily apparent, particularly in the state’s rural areas. New Mexico needs 153 primary care physicians, 271 certified nurse practitioners/nurse specialists, 40 OB/GYN specialists, 21 general surgeons and 104 psychiatrists. In addition, only 56 percent of the physicians licensed in New Mexico actually practice in the state. Larson stressed that strengthening the supply chain for health care workers within the state is critical, but would not be enough to meet the needs. Recruiting incentives like loan repayment would be equally critical.

The task force is asking for consideration of dental and nursing versions of the acclaimed BA/MD program, as well as recurring funding for nine or more physician residency slots. A certificate program for community health workers will start up this spring at institutions like CNM, UNM-Gallup and New Mexico Junior College. Discussions on ways to bring former military medical personnel into the civilian arena are also occurring.

Fact: New Mexico is #1 in the nation in the median age of its physicians at 53.6 years. The national average is 49.2 years. New Mexico also has the highest percentage (33.3 percent) of physicians over the age of 60. 

The committee will determine its legislative recommendations next month.