A recent report by the American Healthcare Association highlighted just how significant a role the healthcare sector plays in the US economy. The sector employed more than 6 million people in full-time or part-time jobs in 2019. This works out to nearly one out of every nine working Americans.
In the same year, the healthcare sector purchased goods and services worth more than $1tn from more than 18 million businesses.
And yet, many other reports highlight the need to hire more healthcare professionals in order for the sector to continue to thrive. The US has historically had a shortage of healthcare workers, but it is now more acute than ever.
The COVID-19 pandemic helped to shed light on the shortage of healthcare workers. The American public saw that many of their healthcare institutions were understaffed, and that doctors and nurses were heavily overworked.
Granted, it was a time of crisis, but experts feel that the country could have been better prepared, especially when it came to staffing levels in clinics and hospitals.
Americans got an insight into these issues, and a good number have decided to change careers so that they can join this army of workers who provide one of the most vital services to the public.
Many are now looking for ways that they can transition from their current careers into healthcare.
Institutions such as Holy Family University have received applications from working professionals who want to transition into nursing. The Holy Family University nursing programs are some of the best in the country. The school offers nursing and health science courses and has been voted the best regional school in the North.
One of its most popular programs is the Second Degree Distance Hybrid BSN (ABSN). It is designed for students looking to transition from other careers into nursing, and it covers topics such as Foundations of Nursing Practice, Medical-Surgical Nursing, Nursing and Older Adult Health Promotion, and Nursing Care of Children. The course also teaches students how to transition into a new career in healthcare.
If you are looking to make the change, it is important to familiarize yourself with some of the issues that affect healthcare in America today. This includes the factors that have led to a shortage of healthcare professionals and what can be done to alleviate them.
You will serve in a senior capacity, and such knowledge allows you to participate in high-level discussions and contribute to policy formulation.
What is driving the shortage of healthcare professionals?
Before we look at the reasons for the shortage of doctors and nurses and other medical professionals in America, it is worthwhile to examine the numbers.
According to the American Medical Association, there will be a serious shortage of doctors by 2032. The most affected, it seems, will be the professionals who are needed every day in hospitals and clinics across the country.
These professionals include primary care physicians, pediatricians and infectious disease doctors. These doctors tend to have the most rigorous jobs. They work long hours and are paid less than medical professionals in specialized fields, and because of this, these particular specialties attract fewer professionals every year.
The nursing shortage is predicted to become dire much sooner. According to a McKinsey report, the country will be short of between 200,000 and 450,000 nurses by 2025. This works out to between 10% and 20% of nurses who are needed to care for patients. The situation is more worrisome when you take into account how many nurses plan to quit for various reasons. According to the same report, 29% indicated a desire to leave their current roles as primary healthcare providers or quit their careers altogether.
There is a shortage of healthcare educators, which has a direct correlation to the shortages of doctors and nurses. Many universities and colleges are forced to turn away qualified applicants every year because they do not have enough instructors to cater to them.
Midwives are in short supply in America. Currently, they oversee about 8% of births in the country. It is cheaper for the mother and the healthcare system to have a midwife attend instead of a doctor, but because we do not have enough of them, we pay more for doctors who provide the same service.
Now that we have an idea of what the numbers look like, let’s look at the reasons why America is experiencing shortages in such a critical sector.
An aging population
Baby boomers are living a long time. In the late 1960s, when the average population was approximately 200 million, the average life expectancy was about 70 years. It has been rising steadily since, and by 2016, with a population of more than 300 million, the average American was expected to live for at least 79 years.
It is estimated that by 2030, one in every five Americans will be of retirement age. All baby boomers will be 65 years or older, and most of them will require medical care for chronic diseases such as cancer, heart disease and diabetes.
This is already putting a strain on the healthcare system, and the shortage of physicians and nurses is expected to become more acute in the coming decade.
High retirement rate
Nurses and doctors are getting older and older, and we are not replacing them fast enough to fill the gaps.
The average age of a doctor in America is 48, while for nurses, it is 44. They are aging out of the system faster than we are training replacements, and this has caused a shortage, not just in the big cities but also in rural areas.
The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the extent to which our healthcare professionals are overworked. They put in long hours, often working multiple shifts without enough time to rest in between.
As a result, many suffer burnout, both physically and mentally, and eventually leave the profession.
It is a vicious cycle. Because we do not have enough doctors and nurses, we end up overworking the ones that we have, and they retire early. The more of them that retire, the bigger the gaps they leave in the system, hence those who are left end up overworked.
It is a complex problem that needs careful thinking by experts, and we are yet to see a strategy for dealing with nurse and doctor burnout.
A lack of teaching faculty
There aren’t enough qualified professionals to train the number of doctors and nurses that we need.
A 2021-2022 report by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing indicates that during that period, colleges and universities turned down nearly 92,000 qualified applicants for nursing courses.
The reasons included insufficient faculty, a lack of classroom space and a lack of clinical sites.
As long as we don’t have enough teachers, we will not turn out enough graduates to fill the gaps that are left when nurses and doctors retire or quit their positions.
Among existing faculty, there are also problems. Many are overworked, as they are taking on more students than they ought to every semester. There is a lack of diversity among staff, and many feel that they are not paid competitive salaries compared to their counterparts in the clinical field.
Low pay for qualified professionals has also been cited as one of the factors that influence how many clinicians choose to go into teaching. For many, the transition from clinical practice to university faculty often means that they have to take a pay cut, and many are not willing to make the sacrifice.
Caps on residency slots
25 years ago, Congress put caps on the number of Medicare-funded residencies in a bid to cut costs. American universities and colleges turn out more and more qualified graduates every year, but the number of Medicare-funded residencies is stuck at the same levels it was at 30 years ago.
In 2019 alone, more than 3,000 applicants could not get residency because of funding shortages. The problem is made worse by the fact that for available funds, allocations are made for low-cost, high-reimbursement specialties, rather than addressing the more immediate problem of training professionals in primary healthcare.
Some hospitals choose to fund residencies, but this isn’t sustainable – many are already struggling financially, and funding residencies is an expensive undertaking.
High nurse-agency staffing rates
Many hospitals have complained that nursing agencies are now charging up to three times what they did before the pandemic, and it is affecting how many nurses they have on duty for every shift.
Increased mental health needs
It is reported that one in every five Americans has a mental health condition that needs treatment. The pandemic didn’t help matters. While it lasted, surveys showed that one in three Americans felt that they had an anxiety disorder that required professional treatment.
Unfortunately, more than 100 million Americans live in areas where it is difficult to access mental health services, and even when they have access, there aren’t enough trained professionals to attend to them.
The opioid crisis
Opioids have permeated every sector of American life, and many health professionals will tell you that they spend a good majority of their time on shift dealing with complications brought on by drug overdoses.
This has put a strain on healthcare professionals. Not only do they have to deal with opioid cases, but they also have to deal with the usual number of patients who are found in emergency rooms.
Delays in visa issuance
A 2022 statement by the American Hospital Association to the Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship, and Border Safety shows that 18.2% of all healthcare workers in the country were born outside the US.
29% of all doctors are from foreign countries and 7% have not yet been granted citizenship. For nurses, the numbers are even higher.
There are bottlenecks in the visa issuance process that need to be addressed right away so that these professionals can become American citizens.
Now that you know the reasons for the shortage of healthcare professionals in the US, you may be wondering how you can transition from your current career into healthcare. How can you prepare for the transition to make sure that it is a success?
How to transition into healthcare from another career
The first thing you should know is that no matter how old you are or how much experience you have in the workplace, a transition from one career to another can be a scary proposition.
It is normal to have doubts about whether your transition will work as well as you hope that it will. You may feel anxious about your job prospects after the change, and even how much you will be paid.
It helps if you can find someone who has made the transition successfully and talk to them about their experience. Find out how they prepared, the challenges they faced during the transition, and how they dealt with them.
In the meantime, there are certain important steps to take to make sure that you are fully prepared for what lies ahead.
Assess your current skillset in relation to what you want to do in future
You already have a degree and some experience from your current career. How well do those fit in with what you are thinking of doing in healthcare?
If you are a teacher, for example, you may want to transition into a training position in healthcare. You already have the requisite skills in teaching, so your change of career will be a little easier.
Take some time to think about what in healthcare holds the greatest interest for you. Do you want to directly care for patients? If the answer is yes, then you should look into getting a nursing qualification.
With that, you have to think about what you would like to specialize in. What patients would you rather serve?
Are you passionate about children? If so, the best specialization for you would be pediatric nursing. If you are keen on helping the elderly, you should think about getting training in geriatric care.
Carefully weigh the changes that a transition will bring into your life
A lot is certain to change once you make the transition. Right from the time you register for courses to the time you get employed, you will need to get used to a new way of life.
It is a good idea to write down a list of the anticipated changes and then think about whether or not you are prepared to make the shift.
Remember, it isn’t all about getting better pay. Think about your life in broad terms so that you can anticipate whatever challenges you are likely to face.
Get some hands-on experience through exposure and volunteering
How familiar are you with hospitals and clinics? Depending on where you have worked in the past, you may want to put yourself within a clinical environment so that you can see first-hand what goes on and decide whether it is the right way for you to go.
You can volunteer at your local hospital in different departments to see who they serve, how they serve, and how they fit into the bigger operational picture.
The more you know about the day-to-day activities within a healthcare setting, the easier it is to decide what your future career ought to be.
Think about how you would rather study
Online courses have become a popular way for adults to transition from one career to another. Not only are they cheaper, but they also take a shorter time, and they offer the sort of flexibility that is not available to those who opt for on-campus courses.
You don’t want to spend many years getting the qualifications needed to transition into healthcare. If you can qualify in two or three years, you can start working right away, minimizing disruptions in your life.
Holy Family University has an online second-degree Distance Hybrid BSN (ABSN) that is worth investigating.
Think about whether or not you can handle the pressure
Healthcare jobs are some of the most challenging, and if you are thinking about making a transition, you ought to be sure that you can cope with working long hours.
You should also have the emotional wherewithal to deal with people when they are at their worst, and you should be able to handle death without breaking down.
Do you have the required soft skills?
To be a healthcare professional, you need to have empathy, be a good listener and communicator, be a great time manager, and be an excellent decision maker.
That’s not all – there are many other soft skills that you need to bring to the job if you want to succeed. Take some time to think about whether you possess the right skillset to excel in your new profession.
If you do not have some of them, do not despair – in addition to your core training for your chosen field, you can seek out short courses on areas such as communication, time management and decision-making.
Making the move into healthcare
A transition from one career to another, especially one as demanding as healthcare, can be scary. It doesn’t have to be though.
As long as you choose the right discipline and get the right training, you will do well in your new career, and with additional training, you can climb to new heights.
Anyone can do it as long as they prepare adequately for the changes that the transition will bring.