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Hospital administrators, education leaders, and health care professionals participated in a Thursday roundtable discussion to address a pressing issue for Michigan– the state’s 27,000 empty health care jobs, and the struggle to fill them.
Panelists representing the Michigan Health and Hospital Association (MHA), the Michigan Association of State Universities (MASU) and Sparrow and Trinity Hospital systems also announced a new marketing campaign aimed at drawing young people into the health care industry, which will launch with a series of videos this summer.
Brian Peters, CEO of the MHA, said that the staffing challenges facing the health care industry affect all Michiganders, especially as the state grapples with an aging population.
“We know that Michigan’s population is aging,” Peters said. “Unfortunately, just about every sector of our economy is in need of more workers. We know that the pipeline to replace those who are leaving the workforce has simply not been able to keep pace.”
Young people considering careers in health care, whether as nurses or physicians or in a non-clinical capacity, have spent the last several years watching medical professionals deal with long hours, poor treatment, and national scrutiny during the COVID-19 pandemic. Daniel Hurley, who serves as CEO of MASU, said that recent data released by the standardized testing company ACT showed that young people are divided on the idea of pursuing careers in health care.
“Some young adults said ‘I want to be an essential worker in a health care setting,’” Hurley said. “‘I want to make that impact, I want to also have greater job security if we ever have such a crisis again.’ On the flip side, some others said, ‘I’m actually going to steer clear of that setting based on what I saw in that disturbing imagery on how nurses and other health care workers are treated.’”
According to the ACT report, which was released in June and included a survey of graduating seniors from across the country, students were especially prone to shifting their interest away from the fields of health care and education because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Students were aware that the professionals in these fields experienced high stress situations and difficult working conditions,” the report said.
One student is quoted in the report as saying, “‘My dream job since I was a kid was to be a nurse. Seeing how health care workers were treated during the pandemic really broke my spirit.’”
Amy Brown, Chief Nursing Officer at Sparrow Hospital in Lansing, said that she has over 100 positions to fill for registered nurses alone. She said that without addressing the downsides of working in health care, it will be difficult to recruit new workers.
“Those are the types of things that we can continue to do,” Brown said. “Addressing workplace violence, things that we can do to help keep nurses stay in the profession, and then also to recruit nurses and other health care providers into the profession.”
Outside of improving workplace conditions, the panelists said that expanding accessibility to the higher education degrees required for most health care jobs will be the key to recruiting more workers. Hurley said that new state programs like the Michigan Achievement Scholarship, which, beginning with the class of 2023, will provide $5,500 to public university students who demonstrate financial need, will help not only new undergraduates pursue careers in health care, but also motivate people who’ve completed some college but not earned a degree to continue their education.
“It is probably the most affordable time to enroll in a program at Michigan colleges and universities,” Hurley said. “Credit to our governor, credit to our legislature over the last couple of years, for bipartisan efforts to increase state financial aid to the best levels we’ve seen in decades.”
The concern regarding staffing shortages is especially acute in health care, where there’s no such thing as closing up shop for the end of the day or shutting down for a holiday, panelists said. Shannon Striebich, Senior Vice President of Operations at Trinity Health Michigan and Chair-elect of the MHA Board of Trustees, said that while opportunities in the industry are plentiful, many people aren’t aware of just how many different jobs are required to provide Michiganders with quality care.
“In 2020, one in five jobs in the state of Michigan related either directly or indirectly to our health care system,” Striebich said. “We have a tremendous need for folks that are accounting professionals, other finance professionals, planners, writers, marketing experts.”
Striebich emphasized that without skilled professionals ready to step into these jobs, people could be forced to go without the care they need. She said that the field is a “people-dependent industry,” more so than many others.
“I think about it as friends and neighbors taking care of friends and neighbors,” Streibich said. “That’s really what health care is about– the delivery of health care is incredibly local. And without people, there’s a tremendous concern about our ability to continue to provide access.”
The health care industry is Michigan’s biggest private-sector employer, and officials are hoping the new marketing campaign will raise awareness among high school and college students of the opportunities available to them if they enter the field.
Hurley said that the campaign couldn’t have come at a better time.
“The overall health of Michigan, economically, civically, socially and certainly in terms of our population’s physical and mental health are tied to the quality of our health care system and our hospitals,” Hurley said. “And that, of course, is inextricably tied to our health care workforce.”
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