Healthcare workers are the backbone of any healthcare system.
A diminishing workforce, however, has experts believing there will be a shortage of more than three million healthcare workers by 2026. While the demand creates some obstacles, it also presents new opportunities for current and emerging healthcare workers in today’s workforce.
What exactly is causing the shortage of healthcare workers, and what does it mean for your career? Let’s take a closer look at what’s driving these changes and how they might impact you.
Reasons for the Shortage of Healthcare Workers
The number of healthcare workers is shrinking for a number of reasons. Here are a few of the most common issues driving the shortage of healthcare workers in America:
An Aging Population
By 2030, the population of Americans aged 65 and older will have increased by 55 percent. At the same time, an aging healthcare workforce will be at or near retirement. Not only will a large percentage of senior Americans require health services, but there will also be a lower number of healthcare workers to address these needs. Specifically, the pace of retirement among primary care sectors including family medicine, pediatrics, and obstetrics and gynecology will speed up rapidly within the next several years.
While COVID-19 didn’t start the healthcare worker shortage—and a slowdown of the virus won’t end it—the pandemic greatly exacerbated the issue. As of fall 2021, nearly 20 percent of healthcare workers quit their jobs, while another third admitted to considering quitting.
Some workers left healthcare to limit their risk of COVID exposure, while other less at-risk employees cited other pandemic-related reasons for leaving. With more than half of the healthcare workforce reporting poor mental health during the pandemic, high stress, trauma, and behavioral health challenges have driven an exodus of workers from the healthcare field.
Burnout and Fatigue
Shortages mean more responsibilities for the healthcare workers who remain employed. And for professions like nursing, for example, that means higher patient to nurse ratios. This has led many healthcare workers to feel the effects of career burnout and fatigue.
What the Shortage of Healthcare Workers Means for You
There are positives to being a healthcare worker during employee shortages. This is especially true if you join a health system that values its workforce and prioritizes employee health, mental wellness, and career satisfaction.
Here’s what the shortage of healthcare workers may mean for your career:
- More Career Choices
High demand means your career choices are vast. The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics projects healthcare employment will grow 13 percent from 2021 to 2031. This is an estimated growth greater than most occupational job sectors. The high demand for services and an aging population means employers will likely offer competitive pay packages and attractive perks in search of reliable, available healthcare workers.
- Higher Earning Potential
State decision-makers across the country are discussing ways to raise investments in state and federal funds in support of higher compensation for healthcare workers, for example. Conversations revolve around retention bonuses, improvements in Medicaid reimbursement rates, and incentives for doctors seeing low-income patients. Additionally, discussions are shifting in favor of expanding education programs and training for medical providers.
- New Patient Services to Explore
Your options for patient care may expand and evolve. As healthcare pivots in response to worker shortages and a global pandemic, health systems are finding new ways to meet patients where they are. One of the biggest shifts in the past couple of years includes using telehealth to provide health services. And while there may be an initial learning curve in understanding technology, digital care models will allow you to do more with less intense labor involved.
4. More Flexibility and Balance
You may experience the benefits of a “cultural shift” in some health systems. Recognizing the impact of burnout and the importance of mental health, many health systems are taking steps to prioritize the wellness of their workforce. This cultural shift includes offering more flexible scheduling to support work/life balance, offering mental health resources, and encouraging employees to prioritize overall wellness outside of work. For you, this could be an opportunity to work for a health system that values its workers as whole humans—not simply for the services they provide.
This cultural shift may also include a higher focus on preventative healthcare versus models focused on the volume of patient visits.
While overall demand is high, some specialties will see it rise even higher. In the mental health field, for example, experts project more than a 10 percent increase in demand for mental health workers over the next five years. Additionally, primary care will be in huge demand as current primary care physicians retire in the same time frame. This leaves a window of opportunity for skilled nurse practitioners and physician assistants to step in and fill vacancies.
PACT, a Partner of Hartford Healthcare, Relies on Healthcare Workers
Physicians Alliance of Connecticut (PACT) is a multi-specialty medical group led and operated by over 30 physician partners and more than 100 healthcare providers. We pride ourselves on fostering a respectful, professional, and opportunity-rich work environment for all our team members. If you’re a healthcare provider in Connecticut and want to share in the PACT vision of delivering patient-centered and innovative healthcare, apply to one of our open jobs today.