Lack of interest from young professionals stems from lack of exposure.
For Tammy Schmitz, what began with a nudge from her father turned into a nursing career spanning three decades and being named Interim HealthCare's 2023 Nurse of the Year.
In 1989, Schmitz had been working as a bartender when, after a conversation with her father, she began to think about other career options. Some of her customers had wives who were nurses, and speaking with them gave her the push she needed to enroll in a licensed practical nurse (LPN) program.
Years later, having accumulated a wealth of experience in the field and earning her nursing degree, Schmitz joined Interim HealthCare of Lima, Ohio, a home healthcare agency, in 2019 as an RN case manager, right at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
"I was very lucky as an LPN back then," she said. "I could do quite a bit and gather knowledge and build confidence. Then I went back for my bachelor's degree and took off from there to where I am today."
In the aftermath of the pandemic, and aligning with the nation's growing elderly population, healthcare has seen more patients preferring to receive care at home, rather than going into a doctor's office. Yet, due to a workforce shortage exacerbated by the pandemic, there aren't enough nurses, aides, and caregivers to accommodate the demand for services.
The issue goes beyond home health and home care, with all healthcare sectors struggling to hire and retain staff, Schmitz said. When it comes to finding and recruiting young talent, they have little to no interest in working with older populations, which she attributes to a lack of exposure.
As a nursing student, she had the opportunity to work with different populations during her clinical rotations which helped her figure out which patient populations she worked best with. She found that obstetrics and pediatrics weren't for her, but she did discover a preference for working in geriatrics.
"You had all sorts of different age groups in the hospital, so we were exposed for quite a while," she said. "We had nursing home rotations, hospital rotations; we really got a well-rounded education with the school I was at."
Another hinderance to younger healthcare professionals not choosing to work with older patients is ageism—discriminating against older people due to negative and inaccurate stereotypes.
To correct these misconceptions and get future healthcare professionals interested in working with older patients, Schmitz suggested normalizing interactions with older adults from when they're young.
"I think what it takes is just starting people when they're younger, interacting with some of the older generation just so they start getting more comfortable with them," she said.
“I think what it takes is just starting people when they're younger, interacting with some of the older generation just so they start getting more comfortable with them.”
Tammy Schmitz, RN case manager, Interim HealthCare
Jasmyne Ray is the contributing editor for revenue cycle at HealthLeaders.
Schmitz began her career as an LPN, later going back to school for her nursing degree.
She attributes the struggle to recruit young workers interested in working with older patients to lack of exposure or interaction.