America’s health care worker shortage

A predicted shortage of over 100,000 doctors by 2030 is perhaps the most visible and well-recorded instance of a growing crisis in health care at the national level. It is also by no means the only shortage. Health care worker staffing and skilled talent across all levels of expertise are lagging behind the growing need.

The average age of the population across the US is trending upward and dramatically outpacing overall population growth, and an aging population translates to increased health care needs. A growing wellness culture is also contributing to greater demand for elective and life-enhancing health care services.

Remote and rural areas and underserved populations with reduced access to local services and health care are already suffering from dramatically reduced access to health care as compared to insured city-dwellers. Equal access to health care services across America would instantly and significantly increase this already dramatic shortage.

There are several necessary changes that can help to address this shortage. Reforms in health care services with improved automation around administrative components and greater reliance on medical professionals besides doctors would offer some help. Adjusting the conventional treatment protocols to optimize for better integration, technology use and collaboration could offer some benefits. However, proactive international recruiting and internal education are necessary to address the scale of shortage.

The current political climate is not particularly supportive of foreign talent acquisition, so the solution at scale becomes education. Already, more spaces for students in all health care positions and sectors are being made available, and federal incentives and programs to further encourage enrollment are being actively pursued.

For students, the high demand, rewarding compensation schemes and lasting demand make health care an attractive career option, which may go some way toward filling the gap. Medical school does come with some barriers, including demanding academic prerequisites and a lengthy education track, but there is an enormous diversity of positions available.

Those who are eager to enter the workforce will find that it is entirely possible to find work with minimal initial education or investment and to “skill-up” as they go. Certificate programs, workshops and continuing education options abound for those who aren’t interested in an extended degree program. Upcoming courses in phlebotomy training and other useful subjects exist for those interested in improving their skills and employability.

Medical office assistants and health aides for home care or institutional care are some of the more accessible positions. Medical technology support is another growing field that opens opportunity to those who are more technically minded and perhaps less interested in a hands-on, face-to-face position. Jobs range from medical coding, an interstitial position between primary care and medical systems, to software programming and equipment operation such as ultrasound and MRI technicians.

There’s also a growing cohort of high-skill professionals outside of the MD designation. Skilled nurses empowered to provide some primary care services and physician assistants could help to meet the growing demand while sidestepping the problematic length of education for full doctors.

Greater awareness of both the health care worker shortage and the remarkable opportunities available is needed to address the shortage before the public health crisis becomes more pronounced.

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