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Healthcare Jobs Should be Part of the National Healthcare Discussion

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By Ralph Henderson, President of Healthcare Staffing for AMN Healthcare

ralph henderson-blogWhenever I hear the latest news about healthcare, which is pretty much all the time, I think about how it will affect healthcare jobs. Considering that jobs and the economy are the top concerns of Americans, it stands to reason that political leaders would be thinking the same thing. Yet, I never hear healthcare jobs discussed in the national healthcare debate.

Patient care and containing costs are the most important healthcare issues of our day. But it cannot be ignored that healthcare has become the jobs engine that bolsters our national economy. During the Great Recession, healthcare demand and employment took a nosedive. As the Affordable Care Act (ACA) began moving forward, the healthcare industry predicted an eventual rise in consumer demand for healthcare and in healthcare employment. Suddenly, in the middle of last year, it happened -- a surge in demand for healthcare professionals hit, mirroring a surge in demand for healthcare services.

Our total orders for nurses more than doubled in the second half of last year. Orders for therapists and other allied practitioners also rose (demand for physicians has been very high for years). By the end of the year, nursing demand had surpassed pre-recession levels. Increases occurred across almost all regions and specialties. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics confirmed this when it released 2014 data showing that healthcare created approximately 26,000 jobs per month in 2014, compared to 17,000 per month in 2013. Compared to other sectors of the economy, healthcare jobs are expected to increase both the most and the fastest through 2022.

What caused the surge in healthcare jobs, and more importantly, will it continue? The ACA with its millions of newly covered consumers is a major factor. But so too is an improving economy, along with regulatory pressures to increase patient safety, satisfaction and outcomes; reduce readmissions; and contain costs – all of which require additional and new healthcare roles. Practitioner shortages and the aging of our healthcare workforce are continuing pressures on demand. Most important for the long term, our aging national population will need more and more healthcare.

These pressures will result in sustained growth in demand for healthcare – and for healthcare jobs – for the next decade or longer. Economic good times like today are, of course, cyclical, but the aging of America is forecast to continue beyond 2050.

Healthcare ended 2014 with nearly 15 million jobs – one out of ten nationwide. Long-term, healthcare is projected to add more jobs – 5 million by 2022 – than any other industry. That total is one third of the entire projected increase in all jobs. And these are high-quality jobs; healthcare consistently leads the lists of best-paying employment.

An analysis by the New York Times found that the pay for many healthcare jobs, particularly for registered nurses, has been rising strongly; healthcare now constitutes one of the main job sectors supporting the middle class. In terms of income and family support, today’s RN is the industrial worker of bygone days.

Politicians, to show their concern for jobs, used to stand outside factory gates to shake hands with workers. But today, the impact of healthcare jobs on employment and the economy doesn’t seem to be on anybody’s political radar. Debate rages back and forth on healthcare reform without mention of the millions of jobs at stake. The political and patient care impacts of the Supreme Court’s King v. Burwell decision were discussed in depth, but its impact on healthcare jobs was never mentioned.

In the national healthcare debate, the main issues should include 1) how do we improve patient care, 2) how do we control costs, and 3) how do we maximize employment. These are not mutually exclusive. New care models that promote efficiency also require new and emerging job roles. And at the same time that healthcare jobs are growing, healthcare costs are slowing.

Public opinion polls remind us: The economy is No. 1. If that’s so, then the jobs engine of healthcare should universally be seen by political leaders as one of the greatest economic opportunities of our time.

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