Workforce shortages similar to the extremes felt in the U.S. healthcare system are expected to creep into numerous other industries and fields in the coming years. Examining how the healthcare system responds to these challenges will provide a valuable case study that could influence other fields dealing with both high attrition and an undersupply of professionals entering the field.
The severe attraction and retention challenges of the U.S. healthcare system were brought to light in a recent opinion piece featured in The Hill. According to the article, the physician workforce pipeline is in a state of national crisis.
More specifically, the article suggests that the problem lies not just in the current high attrition rates among physicians, but more fundamentally in the pipeline that produces these professionals. It’s reported that the Graduate Medical Education (GME) system, responsible for training new physicians, is struggling to keep up with the demand.
This bottleneck in turn is creating a significant gap in the supply of new physicians — with the Association of American Medical Colleges projecting a shortfall of up to 124,000 physicians by 2034. This issue, if left unaddressed, could have far-reaching implications for the overall workforce and healthcare delivery.
It’s reported that over 11 percent of the U.S. physician workforce, amounting to 117,000 doctors, left the profession between 2020 and 2021 — during the early peak of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the alarming rate of attrition is a symptom of much deeper systemic issues in the healthcare sector overall, which were then multiplied by the COVID-19 pandemic. The departure of these skilled professionals is not just a loss of numbers; it represents an erosion of expertise and experience, that is critical for quality healthcare delivery in the country.
The impact of this failing pipeline extends beyond the healthcare sector. It reveals a broader challenge to be faced in the future of work: ensuring that proper training and education systems can adapt quickly to meet evolving workforce demands. In healthcare, this means not only producing enough physicians but also ensuring they have the skills and resilience to meet the challenges of modern medical practice on a day-to-day basis.
For other fields and industries looking in, this could emphasize the need to properly upskill and train employees. A depleted workforce with an undersupply and high attrition rate means increased workloads for the remaining staff — potentially leading to more burnout and even further attrition.
To address the challenges in healthcare, the authors of the report suggest a multi-pronged approach. This includes improving real-time data and analysis in GME recruitment processes, and more flexible allocation of federal GME funding. It’s reported that Congress has made some efforts in this direction, such as funding new GME positions and developing a Health Workforce Strategic Plan. However, more systematic efforts are required to modernize data collection and address the intricacies of physician recruitment and retention.