It should be no surprise the healthcare industry is experiencing serious staffing issues.
While the labor shortage was well in effect before COVID-19, the situation has worsened through the pandemic. A recent Bureau for Labor Statistics (BLS) report stated that employment in healthcare has gone down by 460,000 workers since February 2020.
Several reasons are contributing to this crisis. They range from the impact of burnout on front-line workers to a toxic work culture in the industry. Indeed, while physician graduate levels are high, there is a significant drop in those heading into primary care following their education. Without some immediate attention to solutions, patients, existing staff, and communities will find themselves in increasingly precarious circumstances.
Health industry recruiters can’t just hope for a sudden influx of educated candidates. As such, it’s important to approach the challenge with some outside-the-box thinking. Let’s take a look at a few ways to implement this.
It’s certainly true that systemic aspects are contributing to the current healthcare staffing shortage. But this doesn’t mean the influx of patients from COVID-19 and a range of cultural issues can be blamed for everything. Focusing purely on the systemic problems can mean individual facilities miss out on vital opportunities to make key internal adjustments that can help to solve issues on a micro level.
As such, facilities must perform internal reviews of their staffing ecosystems. Administrators need to first gain an understanding of the common staffing issues in healthcare. This includes recognizing how reactive hiring following high turnover can disrupt efficacy and exacerbate staff stress. It should also review where inadequate onboarding has knock-on effects on productivity and care standards. With full visibility of these problem areas, they can more accurately assess which if any are present in their organization.
This assessment process shouldn’t exist in an echo chamber of upper management. Staff will have personal experiences of going through the recruitment, employment, and training process. They are likely to know where support is lacking even if they don’t know how to make specific improvements. Inviting input from those with first-hand knowledge is key to making changes moving forward.
Part of the staffing problem facing healthcare providers is the emphasis on specialization. Too often, there is a culture that provides training routes funneling workers toward a single area of expertise. Helping workers to upskill to become more agile contributors can help serve the growing needs of patients and the community.
This doesn’t mean facilities leadership should place more pressure on already overburdened staff. Rather, it’s about knowing how to both tackle the challenges of the current environment and also enrich workers' career trajectories. This could include providing nurses with training on telemedicine technology and protocols to give more options to attend to patients remotely. This prevents facilities from getting swamped with in-person appointments. It can be giving management training to support staff to handle relationships with insurers, equipment providers, and drug companies.
It’s equally important to consider what skills can make current staff more fit for purpose in healthcare spaces today. We live in an increasingly multicultural society, which means it’s vital to encourage the development of language skills to serve often marginalized patients accordingly. There is already evidence to suggest learning a new language has positive cognitive effects. Plus, just as in business fields, bilingual healthcare workers are likely to find it contributes to their successful career trajectory. By supporting a greater number of nurses, technicians, and administrators to gain multilingual abilities, facilities help them become more agile.
Staffing issues in healthcare don’t always strictly come down to shortages. In some cases, facilities will have sufficient staff — even occasionally overstaffed. But the organizational structure is inefficiently designed. This can mean the staff is not available where and when they’re needed. Which creates additional stress and pressure that can in turn lead to further problems. As such, an appropriate approach to addressing this issue is focusing on recruitment to optimize efficiency.
There is an increasing number of nursing professions that are predicated on organizational strategy. The role of a chief nursing officer (CNO) is geared toward achieving high patient care standards through solid leadership. This includes a focus on establishing administrative protocols. They'll also shape the staffing structure of a facility. Hiring an expert in this field can be instrumental in understanding areas of inefficiency. Facilities can then shift the right staff to the appropriate areas.
Importantly, these professionals who have a core understanding of efficient staff dispersal means facilities get more accurate data on their recruitment needs. When healthcare workers are placed in areas they can make the most impact, there is greater clarity on where the gaps really are. This shifts focus to the right areas and informs priorities when using tools like artificial intelligence for recruiting. It is instrumental in meeting the deficits of the organization and rises to the unique care needs of the local patient community.
The healthcare industry in the U.S. is deep in a period of staffing concern. While there was already a problem before the pandemic, we are now at what could be considered bordering on crisis. This means healthcare facilities need to think differently when addressing staffing issues. This includes gaining a deep understanding of where their organizational problems lie and helping employees upskill to make for a more agile staff base. Recruiting leaders who prioritize efficiency can also be key in minimizing negative impacts and allowing an accurate view of the staffing situation. It’s vital facilities and health departments act now to avoid the potential for disrupting patient care.