Shifting Focus to Emphasize New or Overlooked Roles in Healthcare

Posted by Jaime Nguyen on July 31, 2020

The emergence of COVID-19 has heavily impacted the healthcare industry. From worker shortages to mass layoffs, healthcare is in flux.

COVID-19 is being compared to Ebola, SARS, and the plague. Even at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the United States was experiencing a shortage of healthcare workers. In the midst of the pandemic, hospitals and other healthcare facilities, especially those in the hardest hit cities and areas, were facing such a dire need for healthcare workers that unprecedented measures and drastic actions were taken, from fast-tracking licensing of physicians to calling in retired healthcare professionals to make up the deficit.

Hospitals were limiting staff to truly “essential” workers to minimize unnecessary COVID exposure. This resulted in already overworked physicians and nurses picking up extra shifts and taking on additional duties, such as cleaning patient rooms, stocking supplies, transporting patients, and running specimens to labs - jobs that are normally handled by support staff.

This unprecedented and almost paradoxical shift in workforce needs in healthcare demands a renewed focus on previously overlooked and newly created support positions.

Person putting on surgical face mask.

A critical shortage of expert healthcare workers

More than 1.4 million healthcare workers have lost their jobs since April. Nearly 135,000 of the April losses were in hospitals. Emergency rooms are almost empty. Medical offices and other ambulatory care clinics fared even worse as people canceled or postponed annual exams and other preventative medical visits to lessen their risk of being exposed to COVID-19. As a result, hospitals and healthcare organizations lost more than $202.6 billion since the beginning of the pandemic - an average of $50.7 billion per month.

As states push to reopen and lift restrictions, we can expect to see a shift in the need for trained medical support roles. Some of the lost jobs in healthcare are likely to come back later, in a different form or not at all. It is most likely a mixture of all three.

Healthcare will always need physicians and nurses; however, we have been experiencing shortages of both well before the pandemic . According to the United States Department of Health and Human Services’ Health Resources and Services Administration, there will be a shortage of 124,000 to 160,000 full-time physicians projected by 2025, with many medical specialties, including internal and family medicine, already reporting a shortage of physicians.

Similar to the physician workforce shortage, the United States is currently facing a nursing shortage that is expected to intensify as the population ages and lives longer. In 2000, the national supply of full-time, registered nurses was estimated at 1.89 million while the demand was estimated at 2 million, a shortage of 110,000 nurses. By 2020, the shortage is projected to grow to an estimated 340,000 nurses. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that close to a million new nurses will be needed over the next decade, both to fill new jobs and to replace vacancies resulting from retiring nurses.

Due to the continued shortage of these key roles , we cannot solely rely on these “traditional” healthcare provider positions. The COVID pandemic may provide the industry with an opportunity to refocus and restaff its workforce.

Rethinking the healthcare workforce

Rethinking our current healthcare workforce and focusing on innovation can provide multiple benefits while offering better support to healthcare systems as they try to rebuild. Instead of a reduction in the healthcare workforce, there should be a reallocation of the work and duties to clinical and administrative support positions. Displaced workers could be trained in support positions in the hospital. These support staff workers could be upskilled and cross-trained to work in critical areas of the hospital and other healthcare organizations. For example, workers could be trained to be hospital care assistants in the ER or ICU, which would provide more support to the physicians and nurses and allow them to focus on patient care and not on multiple duties. In fact, many hospitals are in dire need of environmental service workers, patient access representatives, communications specialists, and project managers.

Retraining or reallocating current employers to key or higher need clinical and administrative positions will prevent health care providers from performing multiple extra tasks. These tasks include stocking supplies, transferring and transporting patients, retrieving patient records, and making arrangements for discharge or referrals. Further, these support roles will be lower pay positions compared to physicians and nurses, which can help make up lost revenue while maintaining or increasing staffing levels. While these are lower paying positions, filling the roles with displaced workers can introduce them to a viable career path that allows them to move from an entry-level role to other in-demand positions over time, improving worker retention.

Prepare to fill in-demand roles with rapid upskilling and reskilling

While it makes sense to fill more in-demand support roles in the healthcare industry to benefit patients, the higher-level healthcare workers, and the hospital bottom line, finding prospective employees who are qualified to fill those roles is easier said than done. That’s where rapid training programs come into play.

Through courses offered in Penn Foster’s Healthcare Careers Institute, workers can train for new and newly in-demand roles from patient service representative to contact tracer in as little as 3 to 6 months. Prepare to meet the demand for healthcare support roles today by contacting a training program expert.


Hospitals and Health Systems Face Unprecedented Financial Pressures Due to COVID-19