Healthcare Workforce Shortages and Suggestions for What to Do about Them

April 1, 2021
April 1, 2021

Experts have been talking about the U.S. healthcare workforce shortage for some time. Though it does not apply evenly across the country, there are places where the problem is especially severe. In California, for example, the state “is projected to face a shortage of 4,100 primary care clinicians and 600,000 home care workers in 10 years. The state is also projected to lack one-third of the psychiatrists it needs” (Gooch, 2019).

To combat this serious problem, all kinds of solutions have been proposed, and some are in place already. Here are a few that have been proposed:

  • Scholarships and expanded nurse practitioner roles - California is considering the problem at the statewide level, and the solutions proposed by the ”California Future Health Workforce Commission include developing more primary care physician and psychiatry residency positions; providing medical students with full-tuition scholarships in exchange for practicing in rural areas and other under-resourced communities; and maximizing the nurse practitioner role on care teams to help fill primary care positions” (Gooch, 2019).
  • Accelerated Training - Accelerated training is another option. An interesting example comes from South Carolina,where “Amid rising student debt and a growing need for more nurses and doctors, the state’s schools are aiming to train health professionals faster. MUSC [The Medical University of South Carolina] is now one of only a dozen or so schools in the country offering a three-year medical degree” (Wildeman, 2019). An accelerated nursing program is also in the works.
  • Federal-level Provider licensure - An opinion article in The Hill offers that “there is one step that would serve to alleviate some of today’s challenges that lawmakers should embrace right away: federal licensure for clinicians” (Nazem, 2019). State-based licensure of clinicians restricts moves and keeps many providers from workers across state lines, exacerbating shortages. Nazem adds, “Relaxed state-to-state requirements would fill more empty roles across the country and bring care to those populations and health-care facilities experiencing the largest provider shortages.”
  • Upskilling - For other shortages that are also severe, like that for home health care workers, one possible solution is “upskilling, [which] entails improving workers’ skill sets by offering increased specialty training. Upskilling varies from current practices at many agencies, as training is often minimal” (Bryant, 2019). Bryant adds that “Launching specialized training programs could be costly — and implementation isn’t always easy. But investing in upskilling often pays off in the end, as the direct cost of worker turnover is $2,600, according to research firm Home Care Pulse, with indirect cost being much higher. “
  • More scholarships and extra training - The importance of training as a solution is affirmed in an article about how worker shortages are restricting access to care in New Hampshire. Here, too, healthcare providers and the state are considering “everything from investing money in scholarship programs for people who are entering the health care industry [to] money for training programs for people who are already professionals in the health care industry to get additional credentials or to do some career advancement here in New Hampshire” (Ganley et al, 2019).

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