In rural Kansas, healthcare is a daily concern. It keeps folks up at night.

I consistently hear from that a lack of medical professionals is one of the more pressing concerns for rural healthcare delivery.

Rural populations are declining, and the hospitals are struggling to remain open, which makes it hard for our rural hospitals to attract talent. This trend of declining physician workforce hits rural, underserved, and veteran communities the hardest.

This past week I joined forces with Congresswoman Susie Lee of Nevada to present a bipartisan solution to this problem. We have introduced the H.R. 3150 Rural and Underserved Residencies to Attract Long-term Physicians Act, also known as the RURAL Physicians Act, which would allow a physician to qualify for interest-free deferment on student loans while serving in a medical or dental internship or residency program, if the borrower’s internship or residency is served in rural and underserved areas or VA medical facilities.

In the short term, residents and interns would help provide an affordable workforce for small hospitals short on funds. For long-term workforce increase, one of the greatest factors in determining where a medical professional will practice is where they served their residency. On average, 54 percent of medical professionals practice where they had their residencies.

Kansans in rural communities are struggling to access quality healthcare, a problem exacerbated by a shrinking nationwide physician workforce. The negative trend of access to care and physician workforce hits rural, underserved, and veteran communities the hardest. This legislation is designed to provide student loan relief to attract physicians to the areas that need it the most.

Rural healthcare and rural access to care are top priorities of mine and I will continue to look for ways to improve the quality and access to care for our rural, underserved, and veteran communities.

Republican U.S. Rep. Steve Watkins

has represented the Second U.S. Congressional District since January, following his election last fall. His district covers all of eastern Kansas, aside from Wyandotte, Johnson and Miami counties.

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