The healthcare industry is driving growth in the U.S. economy but the talent shortfall will hold that growth. In this article, we look at the reasons why a shortfall exists and what firms can do about it.

The healthcare industry is predicted to be the largest driver of growth in the U.S. economy with healthcare costs growing 1.1% faster than its annual GDP.  But that growth will only continue if the supply of healthcare talent can keep up with demand.  And that’s a challenge. Experts predict that talent shortages in healthcare are set to increase.  For example, by 2025, the U.S could face a physician shortage ranging between 61,700 and 94,700. Thus, healthcare organizations moving forward have to plan ahead and anticipate their future needs, well in advance of the curve.

What’s driving shortfalls? There are a number of clear drivers:

1. Aging population

 The baby boomer generation makes up the majority of doctors and surgeons, and it has hit retirement age.  Replacing baby boomer doctors and surgeons with similar skills and experience from more youthful cohorts is inevitably going to be a tough ask. Positions require years of professional training, learning and practice. The current medical school system in the U.S lacks the capacity to produce enough physicians to fill gaps in the time available. The level of tacit knowledge contained in the baby boomer generation means a ‘brain drain’ across the industry is inevitable.

To add to the industry’s woes, an aging population doesn’t solely impact the SUPPLY of healthcare talent, it also increases DEMAND for services.

Moreover, the large size of the baby boomer population is driving the increased demand. According to the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, it is projected that more than 60% of baby boomers will be managing more than 1 chronic condition and physician visits for baby boomers will double by 2030.

 As the population ages, the need for health services increases. So too do the number of conditions any patient might have. Such a phenomenon will exert greater strains on the workforce, increasing the need for proportionately more medical staff.

2. Shortfall in Trained Nurses

Nurses are a critical part of healthcare and constitute the largest section of the health profession. A growing need for healthcare service and diminishing enrollment rate in nursing schools is contributing strongly to the shortfall. Besides, physical and emotional exhaustion, in particular, heavy workloads, long working hours and the stress of treating ill patients are the main reasons why the supply of nurses is decreasing.

3. Current impact of COVID-19

The pandemic has worsened the supply of nursing staff. Many nurses have found better paid positions during the pandemic, and this has left a void of open vacancies in less well paid nursing roles that healthcare providers are struggling to fill without fresh talent coming into the profession.

The pandemic led to a perfect storm in nursing recruitment; a heady combination of infection risk, physical exhaustion and mental burnout that has placed intense strain on health care workers.

Self-Help: How do healthcare providers deal with their local talent shortfall?

The obvious solution is for providers to push further and faster with their contingent workforce hiring agendas.

Contingent workers are a familiar cohort of the U.S. workforce.  In other economies around the world, full-time employment has remained the preeminent hiring contractual form.  Contingent workers are employees who accept short-term contract assignments to work.  They do not receive the traditional benefits like health insurance, vacation pay and sick leave enjoyed by full-time colleagues, but they do have more career choices, opportunities to travel, and lifestyle flexibilities.

In a gig economy, contingent working is on the rise. According to a U.S. Government Accountability report, 40 percent of the U.S. workforce is made up of contingent workers, with the average organization having 18 percent of their workforce employed on a contingent basis.

Contingent working isn’t all bad for workers: It allows individuals to find work opportunities that fit with their own schedules.  It presents hiring opportunities to rapidly build up a CV by gaining an array of short-term experiences in different industries and specialties. It’s an approach to career building favored by millennial and Generation Z workers who are set to fill the roles of retiring baby boomers. Hiring short-term workers enables healthcare providers to supplement their staffing numbers and fulfil their hiring quotas.

Government Support

There are those that argue that no matter what healthcare providers do, the consequential void of healthcare talent won’t resolve itself without government involvement.

As Joshua Johnston, President of Talent4Health explains, “If government’s want to see their economies continue to grow on the back of the healthcare industry, they have to invest.  You can’t invent a workforce out of thin air.  The industry is in a phase of robbing Peter from one territory to serve Paul in another, but even this ‘shorts game’ will come to an end sometime soon.  Faced with an aging global population, demand for healthcare is on a steep upwards curve, and there’s simply no way our current professional community will cope.  Economies around the world are not creating enough trained medical staff and governments have to create programs that incentivize students to enroll in nursing schools. Additionally, they need to create a workplace culture, rewards and compensations schemes that supports all workers, not just employees.