June 19, 2007 11:00 pm

This legislative session, we have an unprecedented opportunity to help ensure the health of our children, grandchildren and future generations of Oregonians. We can do so by focusing on a pressing and urgent need: expanding the number of physicians, nurses and other health professionals in our state.

We're not training nearly enough health care providers to meet Oregon's future demands. Each year, we fall further behind, making it increasingly more difficult to catch up. These shortfalls disproportionately and increasingly affect rural areas, where individual communities often struggle to attract a single physician to serve local needs.

To address this issue, Oregon Health & Science University, Oregon State University and the University of Oregon have formed a unique partnership to expand our state's capability to train medical providers.

While OHSU in Portland has traditionally been Oregon's only location for medical school training, the partnership would soon allow OSU and the UO to begin training physicians. Doing so would greatly expand the number of medical school graduates for the state. Additional efforts would focus on increasing the number of nurses and other health professionals in Oregon.

We also have formed partnerships with Samaritan Health in Corvallis and PeaceHealth in Eugene, which will allow for increased medical rotations throughout the Willamette Valley — experiences that in turn will provide increased health care access for these communities.

The shortage of health care providers is not unique to Oregon. The entire nation is facing a shortage of nurses. And the American Medical Association, the Council on Graduate Medical Education and the American Association of Medical Colleges have all predicted a national shortage of physicians within the next 10 to 15 years.

Causes for the shortage vary and involve issues of both supply and demand. More physicians are retiring, in many cases leaving their practices earlier than expected. And this trend is expected to continue.

On the demand side is the country's aging population. It's no secret that all of us will require increased medical attention as we age. The current supply of providers is in no way sufficient, and because it takes at least a decade to train a physician, the time to act is now.

Addressing this need will require an investment. Facilities need to be upgraded or remodeled to allow for medical education, faculty and staff must be hired, and students will require financial aid and other support to complete their studies. OHSU, OSU and the UO have jointly requested $7.09 million from the 2007 Legislature to launch our partnership efforts. This relatively small investment was included in the governor's proposed budget, but it fell by the wayside as the session progressed.

Given the seriousness of the issue and the incredible benefit to Oregonians, this amount is a fairly modest proposal, and we urge legislators to support it in these waning days of the session.

Unhealthy consequences lie ahead if we ignore these needs today.

Dave Frohnmayer is president of the University of Oregon. Ed Ray is president of Oregon State University. Joe Robertson is president of Oregon Health & Science University.