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Experts call for formal partnerships with teaching hospitals to fill IHS gaps

For years, Indian Health Service hospitals have reported sizable doctor shortages, with one-fifth to one-half of positions going unfilled.

Some experts say formal partnerships with teaching hospitals can help fill the gaps, which have forced some hospitals to suspend critical services like obstetrics and emergency care.

The IHS provides care to 2.6 million people but, unlike other large federal health systems, it lacks formalized partnerships with academic medical centers.

Although Congress legislated such partnerships 45 years ago, it has not funded them.

Physician shortages stem from limited recruitment efforts, lower salaries, lengthy hiring processes and geographic isolation.

The authors of the opinion piece in the journal JAMA say Congress should work with American Indian and Alaska Native nations to set up an Office of Academic Affiliations and integrate IHS graduate medical education with other federal rural medical programs.

Nicholas Gerbis was a senior field correspondent for KJZZ’s Arizona Science Desk from 2016 to 2024.