Get ahead of the shifts in healthcare talent

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July 26, 2021

The talent shortages in healthcare are both vast and varied. As with the broader labor market, the pandemic had a different impact, depending on the type of job, the location, and several other factors. While nursing shortages are top of mind in some locations, in others there will be an oversupply of nurses but a lack of mental health professionals. If we’ve learned anything, it’s the importance of having access to mental health providers and by the look of it, that will be challenging come 2026. Healthcare organizations are facing a tremendous challenge … and the impact will be felt by all of us, regardless of our field of work.

What healthcare organizations need is a way to predict these talent challenges. With advance notice, there are strategies they can deploy to begin to strengthen the pipeline, slow the departure of workers, and put in place alternative talent plans to meet the needs of the communities they serve. But, it will take time and resources … being able to look at what’s happening now is reactionary and not a strategic approach to effect change.

What if we could hand healthcare organizations a predictive modeling product — a tool to look into the future — that would provide reliable talent forecasts all the way into the 2030s?!?

Just how bad is it?

The past year or so has really been the perfect storm for shaking up healthcare. Once viewed as a desirable career choice, pressures from the pandemic, including burnout, fears about personal safety, and even concerns about diversity, equity, and inclusion have caused employees to reconsider what is important to them. Many have decided that a job in healthcare is not how they’d like to earn a living.

Within the next 5 years, approximately 6.5 million lower-wage healthcare workers (e.g., home health aides, certified nursing assistants, etc.) will permanently leave healthcare occupations, resulting in a shortage of 3.2 million workers by 2026. More widely available flexible working opportunities, sometimes with better pay and other desirable benefits, are luring workers from healthcare jobs that they previously considered to be a solid opportunity with an upward trajectory.

We’re losing physicians due to retirement — this is a problem! Along with that, “physician-based care” is rapidly transitioning to “physician assistant” and “nurse practitioner-based care.” As over 32,000 physicians are eligible for retirement in 2026 (and even more in 2031!), they are being supplemented with more than 40,000 new physician assistants and nurse practitioners annually. We don’t know the impact that replacing physicians with physician assistants and nurse practitioners will have.

What about registered nurses? Interestingly enough, the RN shortage is not nationwide. Some states, particularly in the south, will have an oversupply of nurses. This surplus of RNs in states such as Georgia, Texas, and South Carolina is likely a result of actions taken by healthcare administrators and HR leaders decades ago, during the last RN shortage. By collaborating with universities and job training programs, as well as evaluating their employer brand and ability to attract and retain, they have created a wealth of nurses in their area. Now, what to do with all of those nurses when the supply is more than the demand in these states.

The 29 other states in the US, including Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Colorado, and Illinois, that will be suffering from in inadequate supply of RNs to meet the demand in their communities will need to find a way to entice the southerners to relocate. Not impossible, but a task that will take some planning and revamping of their talent strategy. In addition to the possibility of relocating nurses, there’s always the option of using the ever-growing cadre of traveling nurses. That, however, brings along its own set of challenges and impacts on staff morale, administration, and even patient outcomes and safety.

Finally, mental health practitioners — by 2026 the US will be looking at the need to fill over 310,000 replacement and new openings for mental health professionals. With the additional stress on employees posed by caring for aging parents, possibly new child care arrangements due to working from home, and a host of other challenges inherent in our lives today, having a lack of mental health professionals is not good news.

If you’ve spent any time working in healthcare, you know that this goes beyond a recruiting challenge. Lack of qualified staff is directly tied to patient outcomes and, subsequently, reimbursement. The impact of such a dire talent outlook is massive. However, hope is not lost.

What can healthcare organizations do?

There are many actions that healthcare organizations can take to mitigate these shortages. However, they can’t do it alone and it won’t be easy. Ensuring we have the healthcare talent to cover the needs of communities will take at least two things: community partnerships and time.

By collaborating with schools, job training programs, and human services in the local area, healthcare systems can begin to develop training programs and recruitment partnerships that will present these healthcare jobs to future job seekers as viable opportunities. Of course, human resources will play a critical role to ensure that the jobs and culture of the organization are supportive of a positive employment brand as well.

Time is the other element. How can we give healthcare organizations more time to drive changes that will better position them to find the talent they need? It’s simple really. Predictive analytics. By providing healthcare with a product to look into the future and predict which roles will be impacted in their labor market, we are essentially giving them the time to be able to act now to drive change in the future. The sooner organizations understand what demand will surpass available healthcare talent, the sooner they can start developing and implementing action plans.

We’ve got the product you need

Four years ago, Mercer developed an in-depth analysis of the available healthcare talent and demand in the US. The findings at that time were of great interest and concern to many in the healthcare provider industry. The gaps projected in the labor market revealed how the healthcare industry needed to adapt to address future labor shortfalls. While there was already extraordinary change in the healthcare industry happening, COVID-19 has sent the healthcare community into a more dire situation. Because of this, we’ve chosen to resurrect our predictive analytics work and update predictions through the year 2031.

The product consists of an interactive map that allows you to filter on more than 80 jobs down to the MSA and county level to identify trouble spots in 2024, 2026, and 2031.

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With credible data spanning the next 10 years, honed through sophisticated predictive modeling algorithms and Mercer’s workforce analytics experts, just think what you can do. For starters, you can identify the most critical talent shortage that will affect you, in your relevant labor market, and focus on creating strategies to mitigate that impact. Not sure how to go about doing that? Well, now that you know there’s a problem you can reach out to experts in the talent strategy space, leverage their experience, and develop a plan customized to your organization.

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In the background, you now know what the talent landscape looks like for the next 10 years and can develop and implement a multiphase approach with longer term strategies, such as partnering with colleges and trade schools to create new training opportunities and incentives to join the healthcare field. These longer term strategies will take perseverance and patience to prove fruitful. The good news is you can start now.

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Now that you know help is out there, what are you waiting for? Reach out to Mercer today to gain access to the US Healthcare Labor Market product.

Want to know more about the US Healthcare Labor Market product? Request Information here.

Try a sample of US Healthcare Labor Market product!