As America’s baby boomer population gets older, the healthcare workforce shortage increases. Recent projections show a physician shortage of between 7,300 – 43,100 primary care physicians by 2030. By 2022, the U.S. may face a nursing shortage of 1.2 million. The healthcare industry has historically been a large source of employment for many Americans, so why are we facing a shortage of qualified, healthcare professionals? There are a few reasons.
One of the main reasons there is a shortage of healthcare workers today is that there are more patients to care for. Data from the U.S. Census Bureau shows that there are 76.4 million baby boomers. As this large population ages and retires from the workforce, they will need access to medical care and medical benefits. A retiring baby boomer population not only means that there are more patients, it means there are fewer workers. One-third of nurses are baby boomers, who will retire by 2030, taking their knowledge with them and intensifying the workforce shortage.
There are younger nurses entering the field, but finding educators to teach the next generation of healthcare professions is an additional issue. Nurses can often earn more caring for patients than they can teaching. The demand for nurses at hospitals is high, making the job market competitive and appealing for many healthcare professionals. For example, many facilities are offering nurses large sign-on bonuses. Faculty shortages are limiting student capacity at a time when the need for nurses is high. To minimize the impact of faculty shortages, organizations like the American Association of Colleges of Nursing are working to secure federal funding for faculty development programs and identify strategies to address the issue.
It’s no surprise this problem impacts patient care. Being short staffed leads to employee burnout, turnover and poor patient outcomes. Additionally, nurse staffing can provide a competitive advantage to hospitals, resulting in better financial performance. A lack of healthcare professionals can also affect the future growth of a health system. If a health system is short staffed, how will it open new facilities or expand its current operation?
Legislative efforts are underway to improve nurse-to-patient ratios in the United States. The Nurse Staffing for Hospital Patient Safety and Quality Care Act establishes requirements for acute-care facilities to provide registered nurse staff based on the acuity of patients provided that minimum nurse-to-patient ratios for each unit are met at all times. The Act is designed to improve patient care by establishing a requirement for nurse-to-patient ratios that put safety first.
Hiring more nurses isn’t as easy as it sounds. Hiring healthcare professionals in such a competitive market can be a burden for many facilities. This is especially true in rural areas where the talent pool is even smaller, and different state requirements make it challenging to recruit talent out of state.
So how are health systems solving the problem? One common solution is hiring a medical staffing firm. Medical staffing firms (MSFs) can help health systems fill talent gaps, but before hiring a MSF, it’s important that health systems weigh the pros and cons. If you have a small HR team or your staffing needs regularly change, it may be more efficient to outsource. Hiring a MSF can also be beneficial if you are facing a severe workforce shortage. If you have a fully functioning HR department and stable talent needs, using a MSF may not be as advantageous. MSF services can be costly, so it’s important to evaluate if the high expense is worth it. Assess how much it costs to keep recruiting in-house vs. outsourcing before making any decisions.
Technology is helping health systems bridge the talent gap. It can reduce administrative tasks for healthcare professionals, freeing up more time to focus on patient care. Tools like TeleHealth can save time and provide care to patient populations in rural areas with limited access. Data is another valuable asset facilities can use to work smarter and not harder. For example, patterns in patient flow and high-risk patients can be identified through data analysis. Technology can also be used to help educate the next generation of doctors and nurses and encourage professional development.
Lastly, it’s important we encourage younger generations to enter the healthcare field. Even though we are facing a talent shortage, the need for qualified workers isn’t going away and healthcare will remain a large source of employment. Mentoring young professionals and offering internship programs can encourage students to choose health professions. After all, the more qualified healthcare workers we have the better care we all receive.
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About the Author
Oscar is the Vice President of Healthcare Banking at First National Bank, where he joined in 2007 and has held numerous commercial banking positions. He grew up in Mexico City where he attained his Bachelor's in Economics and interned at the Central Bank. He then moved to Spain and obtained his Master's in Banking and Finance, and finally moved to the United States and received his MBA with a concentration in corporate finance.Learn More