Lawmakers push for more doctors, nurses in rural Minnesota

Finding a good doctor or nurse in rural Minnesota can be a difficult task, but state lawmakers want to change that.

A proposal at the Capitol would expand a program helping doctors and nurses pay off their student loans if the move to rural areas of the sate.

Dr. Sarah Eisenschenk, a resident at United Family Medicine, says, "I, like many other med students in residence, have amassed a significant amount of academic debt, [but] it's absolutely worth it to touch lives the way that we do."

Eisenschenk has already committed to practicing family medicine in rural Minnesota, and now health care advocates are urging state lawmakers to focus on mental health professionals as well.

Sue Abdereholden, executive director of NAMI MN, says, "It's not just psychiatrists that we're short of, but all mental health professionals, especially in the rural areas."

Both Eisenschenk and Abdereholden testified today about a bill that would expand the state's student loan forgiveness program to mental health professionals, public health nurses, and dental therapists who serve in areas of the state that need more coverage.

The loan forgiveness program reimburses doctors up to $100,000. A Senate bill would add mental health professional reimbursement up to $40,000, and the same amount of money would be available to dental therapists.

Under the Senate bill, public health nurses could receive up to $20,000.

Sen. Greg Clausen (D-Golden Valley) says, "Our intent is to put 200 health professionals throughout the state of Minnesota [and] address the shortages that we have in the healthcare workforce."

It's already worked in placing primary care doctors. The goal is to now fill in some of the remaining gaps.

"It certainly will be helpful to rural, under-served communities, and hopefully while [doctors] are there they will fall in love with it just like I did in New London," Eisenschenk says.

Today, the bill passed unanimously out of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee. It has yet to have a hearing in the Republican-controlled House, but several powerful chairman there have already signed on as co-authors.