Our country is in dire need of a rapidly increasing pool of appropriately trained medical personnel. This can be and, on a very small scale, already has been done, as the clinic I was part of has demonstrated.

For seven years, I volunteered as a primary care medic. What I did was entirely illegal, as was the clinic I worked in.

Nonetheless, we operated with the full knowledge of the city and state, because we primarily dealt with people they didn’t want to deal with.

Training basically consisted of eight Saturdays within the clinic. It worked well, as long as one did not try to do what he or she was not capable of doing, and as long as there was proactive collective responsibility.

The rare medic trying to play doctor was immediately thrown out.

That model provides the seeds of what we can do now. Federalism is a two-edged sword.

On one hand, our national government is limited in what it can do and, in the current instance, is substantially more limited in what it is willing to do. On the other hand, states and their governors have real power over much that affects us, powers that do not need approval by Washington, let alone the latter’s initiative.

New Mexico should establish state-organized and -sanctioned efforts to train and legitimate a large number of people for very specific medical purposes. The state has standards and licensing for the training and practice of doctors, nurses, physicians’ assistants and other categories.

It also has the authority to create new categories as needed.

It takes very little time to teach someone to ask preliminary pertinent questions, take vital signs, give shots, draw blood on an average adult and record information. This would free up those currently doing such to be trained — if they weren’t already — to move up a notch in what they do.

Also, training people to do a specific, somewhat complex function could be done fairly quickly, as long as that was the only thing the training and the trainee had to focus on.

People should be trained, licensed and paid to do specific, limited tasks. Probably a significant number of those so engaged would choose to stay in medicine, even enhancing their skills, after this crisis is over.

That would serve New Mexico’s medically under-served communities well in the long run.

Having spent seven years in an environment of briefly but appropriately trained clinicians and lab workers, I know it can be done. We are talking weeks, not years.

The trick would be to develop the political will to involve the medical resources to scale things up to make a real difference. In eight days, I was trained well enough so that I could function illegally as a limited primary-care provider totally in the open with no push-back from the medical community, city or state.

There are many New Mexicans out there just waiting for the opportunity to be similarly and legally useful. What are we waiting for?

Asher Zelig

Rio Rancho