Persistent Healthcare Worker Shortage Despite Increased Job Growth

by W Sullivan
Healthcare Worker Shortage

A recent Yahoo Finance article by Anjalee Khemlani highlights the ongoing paradox in the healthcare industry: despite consistent job growth, there’s still a significant healthcare worker shortage across the United States. When focusing specifically on physician shortages, HRSA estimates that the shortage in full time equivalent physicians will increase from 107,850 in 2026 up to 139,940 in 2036. The HRSA analysis notes that a few specialties are projected to have a surplus of doctors by 2036 including emergency medicine (23% surplus), critical care (12% surplus), endocrinology (10% surplus), and neonatology (10% surplus). However, 30 of 35 medical specialties are expected to have significant supply shortages including vascular surgery (36% shortage) , thoracic surgery (30% shortage) , ophthalmology (29% shortage) , plastic surgery (26% shortage) , and general internal medicine (24% shortage).

The Yahoo article reports that in May 2024, the healthcare sector added 68,000 jobs, accounting for 25% of the total job gains that month. This trend of healthcare as being in the top three sectors for job growth has been consistent since April 2023.

However, this job growth masks an underlying issue: many of these positions are not new jobs, but rather attempts to fill existing vacancies. The medical industry is grappling with widespread labor shortages for health care workers including nurses and physicians. In a survey of more than 3000 medical providers, some factors contributing to this shortage include:

  1. High levels of burnout among health care workers (81%)
  2. Varying needs for medical staffing in different geographical areas
  3. Deteriorating work-life balance (69%)
  4. Low morale (66%)

The health care workforce shortages are directly affecting patient care. According to the 2024 Future Health Index report by Philips North America, 81% of healthcare leaders report delays in medical care due to staffing shortages.

As a result, health systems are dealing with issues such as high staff turnover, hiring health care providers with less training, and trying to incentivize job retention. One way in which medical facilities are trying to cope with staffing issues is creation of “care teams” which include physician assistants, nurse practitioners, and health aides. However, this approach has its critics who argue that it may lead to increased costs and potential quality of care issues.

Healthcare systems are also using AI in tasks such as radiology (27%), inpatient monitoring (23%), and preventative care (16%) to improve clinical support for patients.

As the healthcare industry continues to grow, driven by factors such as an aging baby boomer population and increased demand for services, addressing this health care worker shortage will be important to ensure quality care and manage healthcare costs in the coming years.

Comments to Healthcare Worker Shortage Article

The comments section of the Yahoo article reveals a range of sentiments, with most commenters expressing frustration with the current state of the healthcare system. Several key themes emerged:

  1. Compensation and Working Conditions: Many commenters argued that poor pay and difficult working conditions are major factors in the shortage of health care professionals. One commenter stated, “If they really want highly skilled nurses to stay in the field with knowledge, skills and critical thinking they need to increase wages and offer retention bonuses.”
  2. Corporate Influence and Profit Motives: There was significant criticism of the corporatization of healthcare. One commenter noted, “As long as Americans insist on a for-profit healthcare, this will continue to be a problem. There is plenty of $$ moving through the healthcare system, just not in the right directions or to the right places.”
  3. Burnout and Stress: Many commenters, particularly those identifying as healthcare workers, mentioned high stress levels and burnout. One nurse with 30 years of experience simply stated, “Most of those jobs are terrible. Its that simple. Overworked underpaid.”
  4. Quality of Care Concerns: Some commenters expressed worry about the impact on patient care. One person shared, “My recent hospital experience was an eye opener. Nurses seem to be more concerned about the money they make more than patient care. No standardization on how to do the most basic procedures.”
  5. Systemic Issues: Several comments pointed to broader systemic problems in healthcare. One commenter observed, “The Healthcare system is going to turn into some version of the fast food industry. They are going to start hiring people not qualified enough, people that don’t care much about patients, they just do the job because they need it, and patients will just get shuffled through the lines.”

Overall, the comments reflect significant dissatisfaction with the current state of the healthcare system among both workers and patients, with many calling for significant reforms to address the ongoing worker shortage and improve the quality of care.

What Does a Healthcare Worker Shortage Mean for Medical Providers?

  • The shortage of healthcare workers can lead to burnout, increased workloads, and decreased job satisfaction among the existing staff. Hospitals will need to focus on the mental health of their current staff to avoid negative impacts on patient safety and patient outcomes. Lower perceived quality of care, higher provider burnout and increased workforce turnover are all likely to negatively impact patient experience and lead to lower patient satisfaction.
  • Rural communities and rural hospitals with less resources may struggle to compete with larger systems to provide higher compensation levels and better benefits to lure providers, especially primary care physicians, to underserved communities. Instead, rural communities may need to partner with staffing agencies, attend job fairs, and actively promote their organizations to attract potential job candidates. This can involve targeting healthcare professionals in training, such as residencies, medical schools , nursing schools, and community colleges to attempt to develop a pipeline of talent.
  • I think that patients will become more focused on the perception of the quality of care they receive. Note the multiple comments to the article referring to “quality” and “qualifications” of the medical providers and recall that some facilities were hiring health professionals with less training to fill vacancies.
  • A shortage of health workers may create a “seller’s market” where medical professionals – especially those in specialties with predicted supply shortages – become more selective among multiple job offers and where health systems must compete for the limited pool of qualified workers. The article notes that health care professionals in some areas are “getting some pretty nice looking contracts.” Health systems may consider offering sign-on bonuses, higher salaries, loan forgiveness programs, student loan repayments, and other incentives to entice workers to join their organization.

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