From the Washington Office

From the Washington Office: Ensuring an adequate surgical workforce in underserved areas


Increasing evidence indicates a current and growing shortage of surgeons available to serve our nation’s population. As Fellows, we clearly recognize that a shortage of general surgeons is a critical component of this crisis in our nation’s health care workforce. Accordingly, the American College of Surgeons (ACS) is urging policy makers to take appropriate action to recognize that surgeons are uniquely trained and qualified to provide certain necessary, lifesaving procedures through the designation of a formal surgical shortage area.

The ACS is pleased that the Ensuring Access to General Surgery Act of 2017 (S.1351 and H.R.2906) was recently introduced in both the Senate and the House of Representatives. The text of the bill, which is the same in both the Senate and House versions, can be found here: The legislation has bipartisan sponsorship in both legislative bodies by Senators Charles Grassley (R-IA) and Brian Schatz (D-HI) and Representatives Larry Bucshon, MD, FACS (R-IN) and Ami Bera, MD (D-CA) in the House. This legislation directs the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), through the Health Resources Services Administration (HRSA), to conduct a study on general surgery workforce shortage areas and provide a general surgery shortage area designation.

Dr. Patrick V. Bailey

Dr. Patrick V. Bailey

HRSA has never designated a shortage area solely based upon a shortage of surgical services. In light of growing evidence demonstrating a shortage of general surgeons, ACS believes that research is necessary to determine exactly what constitutes a surgical shortage area and subsequently where those areas exist. Determining where patients lack access to surgical services will provide HRSA with a valuable new tool for increasing access to the full spectrum of high quality health care services. Incentivizing general surgeons to locate or remain in communities with workforce shortages could become critical in guaranteeing all Medicare beneficiaries, regardless of geographic location, have access to quality surgical care. Accordingly, determining exactly what constitutes and defines a surgical shortage area is an important first step toward achieving such a goal.

Senator Grassley’s office issued a press release on June 15, 2017, in which he, Senator Schatz, Representative Bucshon, and Representative Bera individually delineate the reasons why it is critically important to define and designate general surgery shortage areas. For those interested, that press release can be found here:

Fellows who visited the offices of their representatives and senators in May as part of the ACS Leadership and Advocacy Summit were able to personally discuss this initiative with members and their staff at that time. Now that the legislation has been officially introduced in both houses of Congress, I would respectfully ask that all Fellows take the 3 minutes necessary to make their voice heard by logging on to and clicking on the Take Action tab on the right side of the landing page to send an e-mail message urging support of the Ensuring Access to General Surgery Act by their individual representatives and both senators.

Until next month …

Dr. Bailey is a pediatric surgeon and Medical Director, Advocacy, for the Division of Advocacy and Health Policy in the ACS offices in Washington, DC.

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