The following post is adapted from a piece I wrote for Communiqué, a publication of the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs.
The negative effects of states having differing and incompatible licensing requirements for health professionals were brought to light as never before during the COVID-19 pandemic. Emergency legislation, suspension of licensing board rules, and executive orders from state governors (and, in a few instances, from federal agency heads) were necessary to deploy health professionals to areas of the United States that were being impacted most severely by the coronavirus. Legislators and regulators from both political parties were united in advocating that permanent change be made to state licensing laws for health professionals.
Many policy solutions (e.g., interstate compacts, model statutes and rules, licensing reciprocity, and universal license recognition) had been devised and implemented (to some extent) before the pandemic. Efforts to reduce barriers to interstate mobility and practice for health professionals have only intensified during the last 12 months. However, one essential aspect of this problem has not been fully recognized: the importance of education programs in each health profession being held to national standards and being accredited by a national accrediting body.
Professional regulation usually consists of three requirements: education, examination, and (for some professions) experience. I argue that education is the most foundational of these three components. If there are inconsistent education prerequisites for entry into a health profession, it becomes very difficult to even begin the discussion of state licensing reciprocity.
Another major, seemingly unprecedented, current challenge in the labor market for health professionals is the pervasive and persistent shortage of qualified individuals. Decision-makers in some states have sought to address this shortage by creating less rigorous and shorter education pathways. This may offer a minor and temporary solution to the workforce shortage. However, I assert that the short-term benefit of increasing the pool of professionals by attenuating the education requirement would (1) be outweighed by the long-term lessening in the quality of care and (2) perpetuate barriers to interstate mobility because the truncated education would differ from the national standard and from legally mandated education in other states.
In the final analysis, then, adhering to national accreditation standards of health professional education is indispensable for both safeguarding public health and removing barriers to interstate portability of professional credentials. The Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs is proud to be a part of the programmatic accreditation community that is committed to accomplishing both policy objectives.