DES MOINES, IOWA — The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the staffing shortages in hospitals, with Iowa having to bring in travel nurses to help. But Iowa is also running low on physicians as well.

On Friday, U.S. Senator Joni Ernst announced a bipartisan bill she is co-sponsoring with Senator Amy Klobuchar from Minnesota called the “DOCTORS Act”. The bill would expand the Conrad 30 program, which gives each state the ability to give out 30 waivers to out-of-country physicians who attended medical school in the U.S. The waiver acts as a three-year visa, with the physicians required to work in an area with a staffing shortage.

States like Iowa and Minnesota use all of those 30 waiver spots every single year; and other states may not even use a third of the spots that they can legally use.

The proposed legislation expands on the Conrad 30 program to allow states who need more waivers to use the unused waivers from other states.

“Right now I’m seeing between 15 and 16 patients a day every day since I started,” said Dr. Wafic Itani, a cardiologist at UnityPoint Health, who is currently on a Conrad 30 program waiver. Dr. Itani is originally from Beirut, Lebanon and graduated from medical school in 2016. He just started in Iowa this summer and highlighted the need for this program to be expanded on.

“Iowa last year had 44 applicants, they only had 30 spots. They still had to reject 14 doctors who actually signed contracts and they were willing to come to Iowa to serve Iowans because the law says you can’t have more than 30,” said Itani.

The application process for the Conrad 30 program begins in Iowa on the second Tuesday of September and ends on the last Friday of October. The bill would need to move very quickly through both chambers when session reconvenes if it has any chance of impacting the application process this year.