Health Care and Human Resources

Health care workforce fading behind patient demand

November 8, 2012
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Some of the biggest areas of concern about health care include financial accessibility, physical accessibility, quality and cost. The health care workforce is of huge importance underlying these concerns.

We want a well-trained workforce that can efficiently and effectively take care of us. This means people who know how to do their jobs to the best of their abilities and consistent with the highest standards. This means people who are there when we need them. However, these cannot be assured at this time.

Questions about financial access have been embodied in the debate about health care reform. Yet, what good is it for us to have insurance coverage if there isn’t a doctor, physician assistant, nurse or therapist able to see us? In fact, shortages of health care personnel currently are evident in many areas, and predictions for the future require that we take action now.

Currently, a shortage of physicians exists, especially in primary care and in rural areas and inner cities and this potentially will worsen. Similarly, the projections for the nursing supply are alarming. Significant percentages of those currently working are at or beyond their expected retirement age and the numbers coming up behind them are simply inadequate to the demand. How do we respond if one-third of physicians or nurses decide to retire?

An all-out effort is badly needed to generate the numbers we will need to care for our population, especially as the baby boomers reach the ages when their demands for care will increase. Class enrollments in our training programs are increasing, but opportunities for clinical training are being stretched. In fact, physicians, physician assistants and nurses often must compete with each other for limited numbers of clinical sites, partly due to inadequate payments for training under our current systems that stretches the ability of institutions such as hospitals to provide on-site training. 

In looking to the health care workforce, we must be sure that the workforce looks like the population served if it is to be effective. This means we have to reach into our communities to be sure that there is good opportunity for all to be able to pursue the health care careers for which they can qualify.

Payments for health care education must be reasonable for the aspiring caregiver, and this may mean increasing subsidies to educational institutions. It may be popular to cut budgets, but this is not a good way to assure the workforce we need.

A perfect storm is brewing. Just as we expect and need more care, we stand ready to face a growing inability to serve people in the way they may have been served in the past.

Good luck to those election winners upon whom much responsibility will rest! 

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