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Opinion: Caring for health industry’s jobs crisis

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It’s no secret there’s a shortage of health care professionals nationwide – and the list of positions experiencing explosive growth gets longer each year.

More than 500,000 experienced registered nurses are expected to retire by 2022, and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects 1.1 million new RNs are necessary to address increasing needs as employees retire and require additional medical care. The need for surgical technologists is expected to increase by 15 percent over the next decade and laboratory technicians will increase by 13 percent, according to BLS data.

The baby boomers are one reason for these increases, but other factors make keeping up with the demand for health care difficult.

In addition to recruitment challenges, class sizes at colleges and general program availability tend to be limited. Another hindrance is the sacrifice required: Health care is a career that’s 24/7, 365 days per year and can be very physically and emotionally demanding. According to a generations study by Ernst & Young, up to 75 percent of millennials desire a flexible work environment, but that isn’t always possible when it comes to direct patient care.

Fortunately, 74 percent of millennial candidates also want a job where they feel like their work matters. What place is better than a field that literally saves lives on a daily basis? I think that value trumps the ability to work remotely.

So, what do we do to help increase the number of people working in health care?

One way is to get them interested early. It’s exciting to see our area high school students get exposed to health care like never before.

Innovative programs, such as Medical Explorers and GO CAPS, help us connect with youth before they commit to a college degree program or a career out of high school. Their unique ability to see the inner workings of a variety of positions within the facilities helps shape where they go after high school. Those real-world experiences create students better prepared for the workforce and higher education.

In the case of GO CAPS – the Greater Ozarks Centers for Advanced Professional Studies program – there are strands for a variety of industries. Health care isn’t the only area facing a shortage.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the unemployment rate for Springfield was 2.9 percent in September. Basically, that means finding an abundant amount of candidates is hard for almost any industry in the area. Building the local workforce is not something one organization can conquer, especially when you live in an area that isn’t historically a nationally recognized community.

That’s why building a solid community brand is important for all of us. We frequently recruit in other states, and trying to verbalize why our area is so incredible doesn’t do it justice. Thankfully, the Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce has partnered with several businesses in a variety of industries to create marketing materials that highlight why this is a great place to live and work.

While attracting candidates is important, it also is critical that we find ways to grow talent locally. The Missouri Job Center continues to listen to the needs of our area employers. Its industry roundtables have created meaningful relationships and opened an avenue for collaboration between employers to address the community’s staffing needs. The organization has a unique view in that it serves those who need a job due to unemployment or underemployment, and it’s a strategic partner with so many business and industries.

Thankfully, area educational institutions also collaborate with employers to help address shortages. For example, we recently have seen local surgical technology and RN class sizes increase, new programs developed for medical coding and occupational therapy, and program expansion to Springfield such as the PharmD degree.

It’s also about increasing awareness. People tend to think of medical professionals simply being doctors and nurses, but there are so many other positions that are secure and rewarding. Some require far less education, such as certified medical assistants and medical coders. There are also a host of nonclinical positions in health care that are just as critical to the mission as those that directly care for patients.

Ultimately, we are all in this together. We are blessed with a community that innovates, researches and collaborates. We have to continue being strategic on what we do in our community to attract, keep and grow talent.

Celeste Cramer is CoxHealth’s system director of recruitment and retention. She can be reached at celeste.cramer@coxhealth.com.

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