Adrian Billings, M.D., Ph.D., an associate professor in the Department of Family and Community Medicine at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center (TTUHSC) and medical director of the Presidio County Health Services, testified today (Sept. 14) before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Energy and Commerce’s Subcommittee on Health.
The testimony will be presented as a part of the Subcommittee on Health hearing, “Supporting Tomorrow’s Health Providers: Examining Workforce Programs Under the Public Health Service Act.”
“As chairman of the Subcommittee on Health, I look forward to welcoming my fellow Texan Dr. Adrian Billings to our hearing on Primary Care Workforce Programs,” U.S. Rep. Michael Burgess, M.D. “I am confident he will provide unique insight into these important health programs, including the National Health Service Corps, and his own experiences as a physician.”
The federal government has played a long-time role in educating and training health professionals. The Public Health Service Act (PHSA) authorizes several programs intended to increase the health workforce, especially in underserved areas. The purpose of this hearing is to examine the extension of funding for two primary care workforce programs, the National Health Service Corps (NHSC) and the Teaching Health Center Graduate Medical Education program.
The NHSC program was designed to incentivize primary care professionals to work in underserved areas. In exchange for their service, the program helps to alleviate the burden of debt accumulated during the course of their education through scholarship and loan repayment programs. According to Billings, 10,000 plus NHSC clinicians serve 11 million people, and without action from the subcommittee, funding for the NHSC will expire in two weeks.
“As we face a rapidly aging and growing population, primary and preventative care services will become increasingly needed and the NHSC program has proven to be an effective program to address this need,” Billings said. “I can assure you, as an alumnus of this program that the NHSC is one of the most effective programs this country has devised to incentivize primary care providers to choose primary care and to serve in underserved communities.”
Presidio County Health Services and Big Bend Regional Medical Center will begin a rural family medicine residency with TTUHSC in 2018. TTUHSC President Tedd L. Mitchell, M.D., said this collaboration would further improve access to care.
“We are honored that the Subcommittee on Health has selected one of our faculty to speak on the importance of rural health care,” Mitchell said. “Dr. Billings, a nationally recognized alumnus of the NHSC, is critical to the support of our rural residency track program. This program allows residency training to take place in Alpine, Sweetwater, Fort Stockton and Andrews. TTUHSC remains strongly committed to educating the next generation of health care providers to serve rural areas.”
The TTUHSC School of Medicine offers a Rural Residency Track that recognizes the importance of family medicine health care and reinforces this through one-on-one experiences with family doctors who provide the continuous spectrum of care of patients in various rural settings.
Billings was one of only three family doctors in a 12,000 square mile area serving a total population of 25,000 in the vast Big Bend area of Texas in 2007.
“I was on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” Billings said. “After my first year in practice, I started to feel professionally isolated in such a medically underserved area. I missed the academic environment of working with a team of medical students and residents, so I began to host medical students and residents in 2008.”
Billings has trained more than 250 students and 36 family medicine residents in Alpine.
Billings was able to go to medical school debt free because of the NHSC, and the program enabled him to help the people of Alpine, Marfa, Presidio, Terlingua, Sanderson and Ft. Davis, Texas.