Puerto Rico continues to suffer from a shortage of medical professionals. Healthcare has been underfunded in Puerto Rico for many decades, and doctors practicing on the Island can work under better conditions and earn more by moving to a state. There are currently about 5,710 physicians in Puerto Rico, which works out to 1.75 doctors per 1,000 inhabitants, according to WorldData. This compares with 2 doctors per 1,000 residents in the US as a whole, which is still only about half the availability in countries in the EU.
One potential solution is to make it easier for Physician Assistants to practice in Puerto Rico. Physician Assistants are board certified medical professionals; the specialty has been established since 1968. Board certification requires continuing education and regular recertification.
The San Juan Bautista Medical School PA Program in Caguas was established in 2020. Graduates become Board Certified by passing the NCCPA (PANCE) examination upon graduation.
Ley 71, passed in 2017, allowed PAs to practice in Puerto Rico, but not to prescribe medications. The law also made it possible for people who received an MD degree but were not board certified as PAs to work as PAs.
The Academia de Asociados Médicos de Puerto Rico (AAMPR) and Physician Associates for Latino Health (PALH) are working to pass a law which will clarify the position of PA in Puerto Rico, and which will allow board certified PAs to practice at the same level allowed in all 50 states.
They plan a conference in Carolina on August 19, 2022, to explain the need for this legal change.
Healthcare in Puerto Rico
It is ironic that Puerto Rico, which exports more pharmaceuticals than any of the states, continue to have challenges and limitations in healthcare. While many of the problems come from the unequal funding Puerto Rico receives as a territory, there are also legal and logistical obstacles.
Statehood would solve these problems by ensuring equal rights and responsibilities for Puerto Rico in healthcare as in other areas.