New Study Predicts a Mass Exodus of Healthcare Workers by 2025
A sobering new survey released by Elsevier Health, called “Clinician of the Future,” reveals a prediction that up to 75% of healthcare workers will be leaving the healthcare profession by 2025. For those of you doing the math, that’s only three short years away.
It’s a shocking prediction that, if true even at a small scale, will have lasting ramifications for the entire world. If you have struggled trying to get medical care in the last few months, you may have already had a taste of what a future without any healthcare workers can look like. Here’s more on what the survey revealed, what could happen if things don’t change, and some strategies for changing the healthcare industry for the better.
The survey was done two years after the pandemic first began (side note: school in our area shut down exactly two years ago today, which is so wild to think about). Essentially, what it found can be boiled down to a few important points:
- Both nurses and doctors are burned out.
- Both nurses and doctors are at risk of leaving the profession.
- The majority of healthcare workers don’t feel like they have a good work-life balance.
- Many healthcare workers responded that dealing with families can be very stressful.
All of the healthcare workers also pinpointed specific challenges that will only continue to grow in the coming years:
- An aging population with increasing healthcare needs
- Patients that are becoming more empowered
- The fast pace of healthcare technology
- A transition to home-based healthcare
All of the challenges the survey predicted–directly from healthcare professionals–are very interesting. For instance, the second point directly describes patient behavior, which as a result of a more connected society and readily available health information at our fingertips, could actually increase some of the challenges on healthcare workers. This could be interpreted as everything from patients requesting specific tests or treatment based on their own healthcare research to patients managing their own healthcare in ways that could lead to delayed professional treatment and thus, more advanced diseases and conditions that require more complicated treatment.
And, on the flip side, it can also lead to more of a focus on preventive and wellness care, which carries a demand for different types of care, such as vaccines, nutritional services, and wellness checks, like skin checks and annuals.
The other two points are also very interesting: clinicians are constantly being forced to adapt to new technologies that are both used in the workplace and by patients. For instance, who could have imagined a world in which doctors need to be aware of what’s trending on TikTok so they can monitor their patients for symptoms or battle misinformation? Being forced to change new software, passwords, and ways to stay in touch with team members and patients can also be exhausting on top of hands-on clinical care.
And the last point is fascinating: with the advent of telehealth–only ushered in and accepted at a faster pace because of the pandemic—there has been a movement towards more home-based healthcare. This includes everything from virtual visits to ventures like Amazon Care, which aim to literally send nurses into people’s homes for check-ups.
Additionally, while virtual visits and telehealth may be convenient, it’s easy to forget that virtual visits require different skills than in-person visits. A clinician who has worked their entire career in an in-person setting will not necessarily automatically translate those abilities through a computer screen. So virtual visits do require additional training and skills.
What’s the Solution?
Listen, 75% of the healthcare worker base leaving the profession is a big deal. It’s a really big deal. But the hard reality is that it’s also not new news. We’re all used to hearing about the nursing shortages that face us in the future—and at this point, we’re all at risk of feeling jaded about it.
It’s like, yeah, yeah, the world is running out of nurses, tell me something I haven’t heard before.
Now we know that it’s not just nurses; it’s healthcare professionals at all levels, and that is very concerning. The Instagram account @wokedoctors pointed out that just this week alone, 11,000 qualified medical students didn’t match with residencies. And the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) has projected a shortage of between 54,100 and 139,000 physicians by 2033.
The issue with the shortages doesn’t necessarily seem to be a lack of willing bodies wanting to get into the healthcare industry—the issues seem to be with access and retention. There are many key questions that need to be addressed:
- Are our educational systems accepting a well-rounded population of healthcare workers into programs?
- Are our healthcare facilities equipped to train new employees properly to set them up for success?
- Are our workplaces focused on employee retention through support in and out of the workplace?
- Are current healthcare workers getting access to the physical and mental health treatment they need from the trauma of working through a pandemic?
Not a Nursing Shortage
You may be familiar with this sentiment, but here it is again: there isn’t actually a nursing shortage. In fact, there are more Registered Nurses than ever before. The shortage is in nurses who are actively wanting to work at the bedside or in staff positions. (Hello a record increase in travel nurse contracts.)
Additionally, NPR reported that although it’s hard to believe, there are even nurses who are wanting to work but are not able to get their licenses because of delays in the administrative end. Some nurses are waiting upwards of six months to actually get their nursing licenses after passing their boards. Other nurses have seen delays because some states are unwilling to authorize compact nursing licenses and require nurses moving to a new state to work to apply for a whole new license.
In short, the future of healthcare may rely on recognizing that the issue isn’t isolated to a mere shortage of available healthcare workers, but in ensuring that those professionals actually can work and will continue to work in the industry.
Hospitals and healthcare facilities have already started to respond. For instance, The Massachusetts Health and Hospital Association has proposed new strategies to reclaim and retain nurses, such as letting nurses make their own schedules, increasing pay, and offering childcare support.
And if you’re a current nurse, recently graduated, or considering a career in nursing, this can all be looked at as very good news indeed because the opportunity for healthcare workers has never been higher. From the availability to enter any area that interests you to job security to educational opportunities to the potential for higher salaries, the healthcare industry will definitely be wide open for those who are ready to venture in.
Being aware of the potential challenges and equipping yourself with solutions that can help you get through those challenges will also ensure that your career in healthcare will be a fulfilling one; but just keep in mind that fixing the world of healthcare does not come down to one person. It will take systematic changes and we are here to see those changes happen because we believe in the future of nursing—for all of our sake.
(This story originally appeared in Nurse.org.)