by Mike Monahan, RN, MEd
Part One: Getting in Front of the Curve
We all know that a shortage of RNs is coming. While some healthcare leaders are making plans for it, others are simply hoping it won’t be as bad as predicted. Many other critical healthcare jobs are already suffering from shortages, and many more will in the near future. The following is the first of several articles to help HR and other leaders get a clear picture and to start taking action to keep their ability to meet patient needs viable.
The greatest projected shortage will be in home health aides, directly related to the aging population. Since January 1, 2011, there have been around 10,000 people a day turning 65. This trend will continue for the next 17 years, according to the Pew Research Center’s population projections. When these people have their strokes, hip surgery, or other physically debilitating illnesses, they will need rehabilitation, physical therapy and assistance with daily living types of care – mostly provided by home health aides.
Physician shortages are starting to appear in both overall numbers and certain specialties. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates 115,000 vacancies over the next 7 years. Physician education is a very slow process and capacity in medical schools and Graduate Medical Education (GME) programs is very limited.
Laboratories are experiencing huge shortages of medical or clinical lab technologists, medical lab scientists, and others.
Physical and occupational therapists, pharmacists, respiratory therapists, and medical imaging technicians are also beginning to show significant shortages.
At Strategic Programs, our engagement studies and exit interviews show that there is a turnover spike in most technician occupations. Many technicians were educated in hospital-based programs 20 to 30 years ago and are nearing retirement. There are very few hospital-based programs left and community colleges have yet to fill the gaps.
Workers in other healthcare occupations, such as medical transcriptionists and coders, secretaries, medical records, access areas, and patient finance, are all aging and leaving without newer, younger replacements.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that healthcare will account for nearly a third of all occupations showing the largest numerical increase in vacancies from 2010 to 2020. Furthermore, three of the top four of these occupations are in healthcare. The biggest need is still going to be with RNs, where over 712,000 new RNs will be required to meet the needs of people retiring. This does not take into account the possible 30 million people that are likely to now to be covered by some sort of healthcare insurance as a result of the Affordable Care Act beginning. Home health aides will have 706,000 vacancies.
To finish today’s article, let’s look again at the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ articles about predicting occupational shortages. The Bureau recommends looking at metrics such as time to fill and beginning salaries. When you have to look harder and wait longer to fill a position, plus pay more, you can assume you are seeing the beginnings of an occupational shortage.
Growth in a certain economic sector is predictive of potential occupational shortages. Your plans to build a new tower or increase services offered will increase pressure on available, trained staff in the community. This is also true when your competitors do the same.
Occupational shortages also lead to more mobility of staff with the resulting churn and positional shortages. When your turnover goes up, part of the increase is because of peoples’ perceptions of how they’re being treated, their job itself, and their level of engagement. But also part of that is just because they can. The recession of 2008 produced a slowdown in turnover, and much of that was not due to the fact that hospitals were “kind of getting it” about what peoples’ needs were, but because people had no place else to go.
When there is a shortage in any job category, people will certainly have much more mobility. Follow your local business reports, read the local newspaper, discuss at executive meetings and talk about what’s going on in your community. This should give you some clues about what might be happening in the future with various occupations in your organization.
Today’s lesson: Keep an eye on the future of all occupations and build pipelines to resources for the staff you will most likely need.