Advocacy Update

April 19, 2024: State Advocacy Update


With strong support from the South Dakota State Medical Association (SDSMA) and the AMA, the South Dakota Legislature last month passed Senate Bill (SB) 136, which expands the scope of South Dakota’s existing physician wellness program protections to include medical students. The bill was signed into law by the governor on March 18, 2024.

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“The alarming rate of burnout among medical students, which is similar to that of physicians, compelled us to strongly advocate for the program’s expansion. Twenty-seven percent of medical students report depression, yet less than 15 percent seek help. Now that students are offered the confidentiality necessary to connect with resources, we hope it will have a positive impact on their well-being and prevent burnout from carrying over into residency,” said SDSMA President Denise Hanisch, MD.  

SB 136 builds on existing legislation protecting physicians from inappropriate disclosure of treatment for burnout—along with potential stigma and punitive repercussions.  

“Supporting confidential care helps prevent tragedies, improves physician satisfaction, and protects patient safety,” wrote AMA Executive Vice President and CEO James L. Madara, MD, in a letter (PDF) supporting the bill. “By making it safer to seek care for medical students, SB 136 helps South Dakota become an even more attractive place to learn—and practice medicine.” 

As physician burnout levels continue to rise, it is more important than ever for physicians, residents and medical students to feel supported in seeking care for health and wellness. 

A bill in Michigan—strongly supported by the Michigan State Medical Society (MSMS) and the AMA—would ensure that physicians, medical students and other health care professionals are not required to answer stigmatizing, inappropriate questions pertaining to past mental health diagnosis on licensure applications. Questions of this nature have been shown to deter physicians from seeking care for fear of negative professional consequences. 

Instead, House Bill (HB) 5464 outlines two questions that applicants may be required to answer: 

  • “Do you have any reason to believe that you would post a risk to the safety or well-being of a patient or client?” 
  • “Are you able to perform the essential functions of the health profession for which you are seeking a license, registration, or renewal, with or without reasonable accommodation?”  

The AMA sent a letter (PDF) in support of the language in HB 5464, which is aligned closely with AMA policy as well as recommendations from the Dr. Lorna Breen Heroes Foundation, Federation of State Medical Boards, American Hospital Association, Joint Commission and National Association of Medical Staff Services. 

“As President of the Michigan State Medical Society, I find great promise in the proposed legislation aimed at alleviating the mounting stress experienced by physicians. This bill marks a significant stride in our enduring commitment to support our healthcare professionals, enabling them to focus on their health and well-being without the burden of stigma or fear of repercussions. By dismantling barriers that may deter them from seeking help, we reinforce our dedication to nurturing a supportive and resilient medical community,” said MSMS President M. Salim Siddiqui, MD, PhD. 

“Our health care workforce needs to have access to mental health care, and this includes ensuring that stigmatizing and invasive mental health questions are excluded from licensing and credentialing applications,” said J. Corey Feist, JD, MBA, CEO and co-founder of the Dr. Lorna Breen Heroes Foundation. 

If your state is interested in reviewing and revising medical licensure questions, please contact the AMA Advocacy Resource Center

At the urging of the AMA, the West Virginia State Medical Association, and a coalition of other medical providers and organizations, West Virginia Governor Jim Justice vetoed HB 5105, legislation that would have exempted students in private, parochial and virtual schools from school vaccine requirements. In his veto message, Governor Justice cited the “constant, strong opposition to this legislation from [the] medical community” that warned of “irreparable harm by crippling childhood immunity to diseases such as mumps and measles.” 

In a letter (PDF) to Governor Justice, the AMA emphasized that, because of West Virginia’s historically strong immunization laws, the state enjoys some of the highest immunization rates in the country and low rates of vaccine-preventable diseases. However, as increasing numbers of measles cases in other parts of the country have demonstrated, reductions in vaccination coverage have allowed nearly eliminated, preventable and deadly diseases to return. The veto of HB 5105 is an important step toward stopping this disturbing trend and the AMA applauds Governor Justice for his actions to protect West Virginia from the spread of vaccine-preventable diseases.  

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