The current health care landscape in the U.S. is such that there are many workers being hired every month to meet demand, and the industry is keeping up - for the most part. But as the population grows and ages, the need for well-qualified health care workers who can meet the specific needs of the population will slowly but surely begin to outpace the rate at which care providers can hire, leading to a growing shortage of workers.
For instance, one recent examination of health care industry data from Mercer Health Provider Advisory found that many support roles in the sector could be significantly understaffed by 2025. Leading the way on this front - driven specifically by the aging population of baby boomers who will largely be past retirement age seven years from now - is a shortage of home health aides. In all, it's believed that the industry will face a shortage of as many as 446,300 such health care professionals by the middle of the next decade.
Along similar lines, the care providers may have a shortage of as many as 98,700 medical and lab technologists and technicians by 2025, as well as a 95,000-person shortfall of nursing assistants, the report said. Finally, the actual number of nurse practitioners across the U.S. could fail to meet demand by as much as 29,400.
It's not just support roles
However, it's worth noting that separate data from the Association of American Medical College was recently updated to show even larger gaps between supply and demand growing by 2030. Updating industry analysis from 2016, the AAMC found that there could be a shortage of primary care doctors totaling between 14,800 and 49,300 over the next 12 years, both of which were up from previous estimates.
Likewise, there could be a significant shortage of specialized non-primary-care doctors over that period, the report said. In all, the health care industry could need between 33,800 and 72,700 more doctors of this type than will actually be available. In both cases, as with the support professionals, these needs will be exacerbated by the population growth and the aging of baby boomers into their golden years. Meanwhile, as many physicians age into being eligible for retirement, they will also need to be replaced by younger people getting into the profession.
Moreover, if current barriers to health care being experienced by certain subsets of the population are removed - that is to say, if health care access is broadened with new legislation, especially through increasingly popular proposals that would put all Americans on Medicare - physician demand could grow even more significantly, the AAMC noted.
Getting a head start?
As a consequence of these issues, many health care providers now see the writing on the wall and are starting to boost outreach efforts now, before the needs are truly exacerbated by these population pressures, according to Denver television station 9News. However, with thousands of health care jobs going unfilled each year even now, the need to get out in front of the problem is only likely to grow sharply.
To that end, the Greater Metro Denver Healthcare Partnership recently launched a campaign to let workers know about their options for getting the right training to enter a career in health care that could be rewarding both professionally and financially, the station reported. Many care providers are also looking internally for employees that may not be in direct health care roles - such as those working in their kitchens - and providing training (often free of charge) that can start them on the path to a more direct service role like nursing assistants or those even higher up the care provider ladder.
"What we've found is that there is a lack of awareness of some of these entry-level and middle-skill jobs," Jeana Capel-Jones, the program manager for GMDHP, told the station. "So we're reaching out to teenagers, we're reaching out young adults to single moms to people who are switching careers. A lot of the occupations that we're addressing right now really take only six months to two years to complete."
Still a big driver
It's worth noting, however, that while health care still has significant need for workers at all levels of the field, it's also a major driver of hiring nationally, according to the latest Employment Situation Summary from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The U.S. job market added some 164,000 positions in April, pushing the national unemployment rate to just 3.9 percent, and about 1 in every 7 of those jobs (24,000 in all) were in health care. Over the last 12 months, the sector has added about 305,000 new jobs.
In April, the biggest sub-sectors of the health care industry in terms of hiring were ambulatory health care services, which added 17,000 jobs, and hospitals, which brought 8,000 new workers aboard, the report said. All other portions of the health care industry shed about 1,000 jobs in total over the same one-month period.
With these issues in mind, it's important for all companies with a stake in the health care sector to make sure consumers know about all their options for getting the care they need in a way that makes sense based on their unique circumstances. That, in turn, may help them to better deal with the changing health care industry going forward.