Good morning and happy Thursday, Nashville. It's another gray day, but at least the weekend is getting closer.

Today's newsletter is 811 words β€” a 3-minute read.

1 big thing: Addressing the doctor shortage

Meharry Medical College in 2016. Photo: Raymond Boyd/Getty Images

Meharry Medical College could be key to fixing a nationwide doctor shortage, president James Hildreth said.

  • But to realize their full potential, he said, Meharry and other historically Black medical schools need an influx of federal dollars to upgrade "egregiously underfunded" facilities.

Driving the news: Hildreth spoke to the U.S. Senate's health committee last month about the massive gap in the nation's health care workforce.

Why it matters: The double whammy of a doctor shortage and a lack of diversity poses clear risks to underserved communities.

  • "When the health care workforce reflects the population they care for, outcomes are better," Hildreth told the senators.
  • "That's what we lose by not having a diverse workforce: the best outcomes for our communities."

Zoom in: Meharry is already seeking to address the primary care shortage through multiple programs, including a partnership with Middle Tennessee State University that creates a state-subsidized fast track for students who agree to work in rural Tennessee.

Yes, but: Underfunding at Meharry and the country's other historically Black medical schools limits their progress, Hildreth said.

  • Infrastructure needs like broadband access and study space were key factors when Meharry's medical degree program was placed on probation last year.
  • Hildreth asked lawmakers to consider $5 billion in funding over five years to help the consortium of historically Black medical schools.

What he's saying: "We have been training health care professionals who are really competent and skilled β€” connected to their communities β€” for decades. But our challenge is the infrastructure we have to do that."

  • Hildreth said the schools would like to have updated classrooms, smaller teaching groups or high-tech simulations available at other institutions, "but we don’t have the resources."
  • "If you gave us those resources, the payoff would be tremendous for the country."

What we're watching: Senators on the committee were optimistic they could find common ground on the health care jobs gap, although they didn't commit to specifics.

  • "There is a great deal of interest in legislating in this space," Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) told Kaiser Health News.
  • "What it's going to look like, I can't tell you yet."

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2. GOP plan could cut council in half by August

Photo illustration: Allie Carl/Axios. Photo: Raymond Boyd/Getty Images

Republican lawmakers are pressing forward with legislation to slash the size of the Metro Council in half, but they've tweaked their proposal to allow city leaders to put the changes in place before the August election.

Why it matters: Mayor John Cooper's decision to pursue the Republican National Convention in 2028 did not deter Republican lawmakers from trying to reduce the council size.

  • City agencies would also have to work quickly to implement a downsized council before the August elections.
  • Critics say shrinking the council is retribution for the city rejecting a proposal to host the RNC in 2024.

Driving the news: On Tuesday, a legislative committee passed an amendment that would allow the Metro Planning Department to draw new district lines and for Metro Council to pass the necessary local legislation before the May 18 deadline for candidates to qualify for the ballot. Voters would select the new 20-person council this year.

  • The initial proposal from state Rep. William Lamberth and Sen. Bo Watson, both Republicans, would have extended council members' terms one year and held the first election for a new 20-member council in August 2024.
  • If Metro fails to approve new districts before the May 18 deadline, then the original proposal would kick in and the current council members' terms would be extended one year.

State of play: Currently there are 35 district seats and five at-large seats. The consensus seems to be trending toward 17 districts and three at-large seats.

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3. The Setlist

Illustration: Allie Carl/Axios

πŸš“ Nashville police response times have ballooned since 2020, drawing criticism from the city's community oversight board. (WPLN)

🍺 The Craft Brewers Conference, including the World Beer Cup, will be back in Nashville in May. (Nashville Scene)

πŸ›¬ A JetBlue flight from Nashville nearly collided with another plane in Boston on Monday, according to the Federal Aviation Administration. (Tennessean)

4. πŸ’¬ 1 smoking quote to go

Melrose Billiard Parlor. Photo: courtesy of A.Ray Hospitality

As of March 1, smoking has been banned in most of the age-restricted Nashville bars that still allowed it.

  • Austin Ray commented on the new reality for his bar Melrose Billiard Parlor, which has allowed smoking for decades.

"Melrose will be 80 years old next year. There are generations of muscle memory from lighting up in this place. On the other hand, it will be nice to share the greatness of this place with more non-smokers."

  • "Heck, to a lot of people, it will be like a whole new bar in the neighborhood. Selfishly, it will be nice to visit the place more often myself without washing my clothes afterward."

Our picks:

Nate's song of the day is "Lose You" by two artists who are Nashville rock royalty: Bully and Soccer Mommy.

πŸ€” Adam is still thinking about the Oscar-nominated documentary shorts he saw this weekend at The Belcourt.

This newsletter was edited by Jen Ashley and copy edited by Katie Lewis.