Recently I’ve been catching up on healthcare staffing, an industry to which I’ve returned after almost four years. Life will bring you full circle, and as much as things have changed in healthcare, in many ways they have also stayed the same. Having gained some experience and perspective from other staffing industry verticals over the last couple of years, I find it interesting that healthcare staffing continues to fight like no other the seemingly never-ending disparity between client need and candidate availability.
When I first entered healthcare staffing business in February 2006, the shortage of providers was already the topic most covered by industry media, and seems to have manifested even more in recent years. It’s now a mainstream media topic. One can find a headline on the worsening shortage just about any day of the week. Some stories communicate the shortage in an old familiar context – the aging baby boomers, or the growing population as a whole. Some stories are in the context of more recent events – such as the Affordable Care Act and even more recently, the conditions and wait times at our V.A. Hospitals.
When will we find a solution – a long-term solution?
There’s definitely an uptick in the use of locum tenens, and the use of physician extenders such as nurse practitioners and physician assistants. In addition, the usage of foreign-trained physicians has also garnered some attention, but the bottlenecks remain in the processes of residency, licensure and board certification. In terms of physicians, the number of residency slots remains finite, capped by Congress in 1997. That set number is in stark contrast to the increasing need for more providers. There was a legislative attempt last year to increase the number of residency slots over the next five years; however, Congress failed to pass the Resident Physician Shortage Reduction Act. Medical schools have increased enrollment, only for a growing number of their graduates to find out they don’t have an assignment available through the U.S. matching program. More than 6 percent of graduates were unable to find residency last year. That may not seem like much. However, take into consideration the total number of years it takes from the point an individual decides on medicine as their life’s profession, to actually becoming a board-certified physician. Then couple that with the shortages we’ve already felt the last two decades, and one realizes just how far away we are from a long-term solution.
I think the shortage of healthcare providers gets more real as it becomes more personal to millions of Americans. So many of my generation are about to make tough decisions on how to care for their elderly parent(s), while still juggling responsibilities as a parent of their own children. This is not just an issue impacting the profession of doctors, this is an issue impacting the delivery of medical care, which makes this an issue about health, and people, and families. When words such as cancer, disease, disorder and disability are used in conjunction with talking about our loved ones, and a large enough portion of our population is unable to access the care they need in a timely manner – that may finally be the tipping point. What do you think?