BY DANIKA KIMBALL
America has long faced a shortage of healthcare professionals. It’s a problem that is likely to worsen in years to come. As an example, it’s expected that nearly 33 percent of working nurses in the country will hit retirement over the course of the next 10 years. At the same time, the nation’s population is aging rapidly, requiring more intensive and long-term care. Simply put, American hospitals will not be able to keep up with the demand unless we train an alarming number of new healthcare professionals.
It’s not due to a lack of interest from students. In fact the opposite is true.Part of the problem does lie in the education system. Medical programs actually reject thousands of applicants a year despite the shortage of those in the healthcare field.
Without implementing changes at the university level, it’s likely that these shortages are only going to become more exacerbated in years to come. In short, to solve the healthcare staffing crisis, we need more healthcare educators at the university level. This problem has become the most visible in the nursing community.
“There’s tremendous demand from hospitals and clinics to hire more nurses,” Robert Rosseter, a spokesman for the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, told CNN Money. “There’s tremendous demand from students who want to enter nursing programs, but schools are tapped out.”
This has the potential to become a huge problem, if the trend persists. There are currently 3 million nurses working in the United States. In order to fill current healthcare gaps, U.S. colleges are going to have to produce one million more graduates by the year 2022.
Though it’s easy to assume that the problem only exists in the nursing profession, the same is true in many other professions in the healthcare field. Recent research has shown that we will have a shortage of 100,000 doctors by the year 2030. Another report notes that overall, we will have to hire 2.3 million new health care workers by 2025 in order to meet demands.
Despite this, most healthcare programs are underfunded and unable to train new applicants. In 2017, for example, nursing programs across the country turned away over 56,000 nursing students. Many of those students more than met the qualifications for the program.
“Some of these applicants graduated high school top of their class with a 3.5 GPA or higher,” Rosseter said. “But the competition to get into a nursing school right now is so intense.”
The same is true for those applying to medical school. Between 2006 and 2016, the number of applicants to medical schools increased by over 35 percent. But the number of available spots to study remains stagnant, leaving many aspiring physicians with nowhere to turn.
In fact, the problem has become so severe that even applicants who have previous experience in the healthcare field are being rejected.
CNN Money profiled one such applicant, Erica Kay, a 35-year-old certified surgical technician and medical assistant. Kay has taken two admissions tests and applied to three different schools without success.
“One school responded in a letter they had 343 applications and only accepted 60 students,” Kay said. “Another school had 60 slots for 262 applications…It shocks and upsets me that there are so many hurdles to get into nursing school when we have a nursing shortage.”
Nursing in particular is a popular profession, largely due to the fact that there is great potential for growth and change throughout your career, and due to the enormous need. Those who graduate from nursing programs are presented with an entry-level living wage with which most are able to support themselves and their families. And in many states, where shortages are less severe and mandatory overtime is not a requirement, schedules are flexible.
While there may be different reasons to become a physician, or a health administrator, the availability of training is still scarce.
At this point, colleges simply aren’t able to keep up with demand. Many institutions struggle to hire and maintain instructors who are qualified to teach. It’s a problem that many colleges and universities are trying to solve through educator recruitment.
Until the problem is addressed at its core, many universities have come up with creative ways to increase the number of students they are able to accept into their programs.
Many statewide initiatives are underway that aim to address the shortage of healthcare staff in the country. The University of Wisconsin, for example, announced a $3.2 million Nurses for Wisconsin initiative, which would provide fellowships and loan forgiveness for future nurse faculty who agree to teach in the state after they graduate from college.
Others schools have partnered with large hospitals in order to have their nursing students learn from nurses in the field. For example, Arizona State University recently partnered with the Mayo Clinic in order to provide training and networking opportunities for their students.
There are many ways that the issue can be addressed. In order to do so, however, universities and hospitals are going to have to come up with actionable solutions, and quickly.
Danika is a writer and musician from the Northwest who sometimes takes a 30 minute break from feminism to enjoy a tv show. You can follow her on Twitter @sadwhitegrrl