Workforce Shortage in the Health Care

WorkforceShortage in the Health Care

WorkforceShortage in the Health Care

Theissue of staff shortage in the health care sector has been criticalfor close to two decades. Although the shortage of the health careprofessionals has a long history, it was recognized as a global issueand given attention in the 1990s (Keen &amp Kennedy, 2003). Theshortage of staff reduces the quality of the treatment outcome andoverworking the few health care providers. Some health carefacilitates go for mandatory overtime instead of employing new healthcare providers in order to contain the escalating cost of care.However, staff shortage is costly because it reduces theorganizations’ capacity to deliver quality services and affectpatients negatively. This paper will address the major causes of thecurrent shortage of the heath care providers and analyze the possiblesolutions, including the long-term and the short-term alternatives.

Reasonsfor the workforce shortage

Increasein the demand for the health care services

Causesof workforce shortage in the health care sector are multifaceted andreflect changes in demographics, changes in the health care system,and employment patterns. The increase in the demand for the healthcare services can create a shortage of the healthcare providers evenin situation where turnover is low. The increase in demand can beattributed to different factors, including the increases in theprevalence of many diseases and the number of older adults (Keen &ampKennedy, 2003). Population aging is associated with the staffshortage because older adults are more vulnerable to diseasescompared to the general population or the younger generation. It isestimated that the general population will grow by 18 % between theyears 2000 and 2020, where the population of the people aged 65 yearsand above will increase by 54 % (Keen &amp Kennedy, 2003). Thismeans that approximately 19 million Americans will enter the agegroup of 65 years and above by 2020. The high population of olderadults will increase pressure on the health care system because thepercentage of new health care providers entering the sector is lessthan the percentage of the population aging.

Theavailability of other career options

Thenumber of career options has been increasing following changes inemployment and social patterns. According to Keen &amp Kennedy(2003) people who were born after 1950s have more career options,where most of them pay much better than the health care professions,compared to those who were born before 1950s. This has reduced theproportion of students who selecting the health care courses, thusreducing the number of qualified health care professionals to fillthe vacancies left by the old health care providers. For example, itis estimated that the current generation of youths is 35 % lesslikely to join the nursing courses compared the generation of the1950s (Aya Health Care, 2015). This indicates that the health carefacilities are finding it difficult to attract qualified health careproviders to hire, which exacerbates the workforce shortage in thehealth care sector.

Workloadand poor working conditions

Manyhealth care organizations have been choosing to adopt mandatoryovertime shift policies with the objective of containing theescalating cost of delivering health care cost. Health carefacilities that go for this strategy assume that forcing the currentmembers of staff for overtime will help them avoid the cost of hiringnew health care professionals, thus reducing the salary expenditure.This trend began in the 1990s, when the rapid increase in the cost ofcare became a major issue that troubled all health facilities acrossthe globe (Keen &amp Kennedy, 2003). The decision to introducemandatory overtimes contributes towards the shortage of workforce intwo ways. First, failing to recruit new members of staff and relyingon the overtime policies creates a scenario in which the number ofpatients increases at a higher rate than the number of the healthcare providers. Secondly, the overworked health care providers aremore likely to their current employer organizations or the healthcare sector to look for better employment opportunities that willallow them to balance between life and work.



Animprovement in workflow and patient flow can allow the health careproviders to deliver health care services more productively andefficiently. This cane is an effective strategy in health carefacilitates that have scarce resources. A good work and patient flowcan allow health care professionals to use their time moreeffectively and serve a large number of patients within a short time(Punke, 2012). This can serve as a temporary or a short-term solutionto the workforce shortage. An improvement in the patient and workflowcan also help the health care facility to reduce the cost ofdelivering care, which will reduce the need for stopping the processof recruiting new members of staff.


Inan environment where getting qualified health professionals are achallenge, retaining the few ones that the health care facility is aneffective strategy for preventing the workforce shortage. Accordingto Punke (2012) retaining nurses and the mid-level health careproviders can be more effective because these categories caregiversassume more responsibilities and are given lower compensations.Therefore, retaining the current number of mid-level health careprofessionals and nurses can help the health care facilities resolvethe issue of the shortage of the workforce temporarily and give thestakeholders an opportunity to plan for long-term solutions.

Increasingthe scope of healthcare for the mid-level professionals

Manyhealth care facilities limit the scope of the work of the mid-levelhealth care providers to minor roles that are sometimes lesser thanthe state laws provide. In the short-run, the health care facilitiescan examine the state laws and determine if there is room for themid-level and nurses to assume more roles than they currently do(Punke, 2012). This will ensure that the mid-level health careproviders and nurses are more engaged, thus reducing providers’shortage in the short-run. Some states allow nurses as well as themid-level care givers to diagnose diseases, treat, and prescribedifferent medications without necessarily being supervised byphysicians. Expanding the scope of work for mid-level care givers andnurses can reduce the workload and serve as a short-term solution.


Promotinga positive attitude towards the health care jobs in the society

Thedecline in the number of students who are joining colleges to studyhealth care courses has been a major course of the shortage of theworkforce in the health care sector. This challenge can be resolvedin the long-run by changing the perception of students about thehealth care careers. The stakeholders can achieve the change ofattitude by promoting the health care jobs and compensating employeeswho are currently serving as health care providers better (ManpowerInc, 2010). This will encourage more students to study health carecourses and reduce the challenge of shortage since health carefacilities will have more providers to recruit.

Developmentof international certification standards

Developingthe international certification standards means that differentjurisdictions in the world should be required use similar standardsin training and certifying health care providers. This is the onlyreliable measure that will ensure that the health care facilitiesoperating in areas with the shortage of trained health care providerscan hire professionals from other jurisdictions that have a surplus(Manpower Inc, 2010). However, this strategy can be more effective ifimmigration policies are reviewed to allow foreign health careproviders to work in regions with the shortage.

Thegovernment agency

TheU.S. Department of Health and Human Services is the most appropriategovernment agency that can assist in the process of making a viablepolicy to address the issue of the shortage of health care providers.The primary objective of HHS is to promote ad protect the well-beingand the health of all Americans (U.S. Department of Health and HumanServices, 2015). This makes HHS the most suitable agency to consultconsidering that the shortage of the health care providers is amongthe key factors that hinders the delivery of quality care.


Theshortage of the health care providers is currently a major issue thatis bothering the stakeholders in the health care sector across theglobe. Some of the key factors that have contributed towards thisshortage include the continuous increase in the demand for the healthcare services, the availability of alternative career opportunitiesthat people are pursuing instead of the health care professions, andpoor working conditions that has increased the rate of staffturnover. This shortage can be addressed more effectively through thecombination of the long-term and the short-term strategies.


AyaHealth Care (2015). Nursingshortage: Causes of the shortage.San Diego, CA: Aya Health Care.

Keen,P. &amp Kennedy, F. (2003). Thenursing workforce shortage: Causes consequences, proposed solutions.New York, NY: The Common Wealth Fund.

ManpowerInc. (2010). Worldof work insight.Milwaukee, WI: Manpower Inc.

Punke,H. (2012). Short-term ways hospitals can fight the physicianshortage. HospitalReview.Retrieved August 3, 2015, from

U.S.Department of Health and Human Services (2015). AboutHHS.Washington, DC: HHS.