U.S. healthcare workforce needs a booster, too, to attract and retain new talent | Opinion

·3 min read

Despite the rising demand for healthcare workers, many on the front lines of care are burned out, opting out or organically retiring.

Recent data shows 18% of healthcare workers have quit their jobs during the pandemic. However, the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts healthcare will add the most jobs —especially for personal care, which is set to increase 34% in the next five years.

According to new data, nurses younger than 35 who have been with their current employer for less than a year are most likely to quit. We are entering a period of Baby Boomer nursing retirements, as the average age of a nurse in the United States is 51. As we continue to onboard thousands of Medicare beneficiaries daily, 99% of nursing homes are facing staffing shortages, while estimates project a 510,394 shortfall of nurses by 2030.

Salary is not often listed as the top reason for early departures. Healthcare pay remains competitive as the median annual wage for the field was $69,870, which was higher than the national median annual wage.

U.S. health systems are paying $24 billion more a year for clinical labor than before the pandemic, while overtime hours worked are up 52 percent. These models are not sustainable for employees or the underpinnings of a resilient system.

Instead of incentivizing students to rack up mountains of debt for degrees with uncertain employment prospects, we should invest in trade degrees that are applicable to actual demands in the labor market.

There are 11 healthcare degrees that students can earn in years. Students must be exposed to healthcare trade classes earlier and receive college credit and after-school internships.

Students need funding assistance, but so do schools. Recent data shows first-time student enrollment dropped 22.7% at community colleges. Stakeholders must allocate education funding to bolster the pipeline that paves an economic path for their citizens.

Many view healthcare as a vocational job as opposed to a long-term career with upward opportunity. In the United States, healthcare is the fastest growing field, with more than 2.4 million new jobs expected by 2026, so a long-term career is possible. The industry should seek inspiration from corporate employers around career planning; managing and training talent while establishing long-term career goals that are symbiotic to both parties.

Where possible, we need to reinvent the dominant model in healthcare, shift work. Data shows that 60% of Gen Zers and millennials rank flexible work arrangements as their number one criteria for employment. Employees who work night and weekend shifts report lower levels of engagement. For those grappling with home challenges (senior care, childcare, or education) inventive models will help manage competing priorities.

A major goal in healthcare is to provide better care at lower cost and harnessing technology and innovation is the path forward. We have an entire generation primed to work on this, as 88% of our younger workers would rather have unlimited data than calls. This speaks volumes about their focus and untapped potential.

Our younger employees also value different employment benefits. They are more likely to remain single longer (25% are unlikely to ever marry), choosing education and career advancement, while putting a premium on well-being. Contrary to popular belief, this group values loyalty and would remain with an employer for many years. Employers open to sabbaticals, tuition reimbursement, on-the-job training and job shares, or that offer geographical rotations, would realize dividends from workplace creativity.

Managing through a healthcare labor shortage means refocusing on how we attract, train and retain new talent pools. With funding, focus and good policy decisions, the future of our healthcare labor force should be a competitive advantage for years to come.

Meghan FitzGerald, DrPh, is a global healthcare strategist, investor, academic and author.

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