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2016 Healthcare Staffing Trends

 |  By Lena J. Weiner  
   January 04, 2016

There is good news and bad news for healthcare leaders in the year ahead and beyond, according to experts who share five key points as part of their outlook.

When it comes to healthcare job growth, there's good news and bad news for hospital leadership.

The good news is that while other sectors of the economy seem to languish with a slow 8.9% projected growth rate from 2012–2022, healthcare is booming by comparison with a projected 26.5% growth rate.

And the trend shows no sign of stopping.

"By 2022, nearly one in eight U.S. jobs is projected to be in the healthcare sector," says Patricia Pittman, PhD, codirector of the GW Health Workforce Institute at George Washington University and associate professor of health policy and management, adding that the primary drivers of this trend are demographics and technology.

But hold up. Much of that growth is in non-hospital settings, says Pittman.

"Hospital employment is projected to grow the slowest between 2012 and 2022, increasing by 14% and adding 826,000 jobs," she says.

Source: Patricia Pittman, PhD, codirector of the GW Health Workforce Institute at George Washington University

Despite commonly held assumptions that Medicaid expansion would spur job growth, this has not been so, says Pittman, and new policies around value-based care have been geared toward keeping people out of the hospital through ambulatory care, home health, and preventive medicine.

So, there is opportunity—but much of the growth anticipated will be in jobs outside the hospital, for positions such as home health aides or physical therapists. It's up to hospital leadership to choose wisely when staffing in order to take advantage of the current wave of healthcare growth.

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1. RNs: In Demand Like Never Before
"[Registered nurses] are … the largest story" in healthcare growth, says Pittman, who expects the number of nurses hired to increase by as many about 526,800 over the next few years. "We're seeing an incredible spike in the hiring of nurses."

Much of this growth is will be in the areas of advanced practice nursing, licensed practical nurses, and licensed vocational nurses, says Pittman.

Some job availability in nursing will no doubt be due to the number of current nurses who are retiring, but that's not the whole story. As physicians are mandated to work fewer hours in many states, RNs are increasingly being asked to take on duties that had previously been the physician's responsibility.

"[This trend] started with restrictions on resident hours, [but is] now a major strategy to increase physician productivity and contain costs in hospitals," says Pittman.

Also, many states have instituted mandatory nurse to patient staffing ratios, which will spur hospitals in those states to hire more nurses.

This comes after a somewhat rocky entry into the field by many new nurse graduates near the end of the last decade. During the recession, many hospitals stopped hiring, and post-recession, many are still hesitant to hire new nurse graduates, Pittman says, adding that there is still a shortage of more experienced nurses.

Susan Salka, CEO, president, and director of AMN Healthcare Services, Inc., a healthcare staffing and recruitment firm, says she noticed the demand for nurses pick up in mid-2014, and hasn't seen it drop yet. However, "there's been a lot of job growth for nurses outside the acute care setting," she adds.

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2. Population Health Development Continues
As population health becomes an increasingly important part of healthcare reform, organizations will be hiring workers who specialize in data analysis, communicating and engaging with patients, and helping them to maneuver through health systems.

Patricia Pittman

"I think healthcare workers that are concerned with population health strategy will be in demand," says Salka.

Medical informatics roles are another employment area "that is newer and has grown over the last five years," says Salka. Clinical informaticists will have the opportunity to pioneer analyzing vast amounts of healthcare data and deciphering what it means. For a clinician that is ready to transition away from bedside care, this could be an excellent next move, she says.

Salka and Pittman say that social workers, behavioralists, community health workers, and outreach coordinators will be in demand to help hospitals educate communities and patients and to create opportunities for engagement.

Population health executives may be in demand this year, and many health systems will create population health departments or expand already existing programs in 2016, says Salka.

3. Patient Satisfaction: Still Hot
As high-deductible plans force patients to pay for larger portions of their own healthcare, consumerism continues to grow as an important factor for HR leaders.

Clinicians with excellent "soft skills," like a good bedside manner, listening skills, or even a customer service background, will be first hired, says Salka. Patient experience or patient satisfaction officers will continue to be in demand in the new year.

While the chief patient experience officer role has been around for a few years now, Salka says she believes it will continue to grow in importance. "Your organization's reputation for the kind of patient experience you provide matters."

4. Health Tech Drives Hires
Along with an aging populace, the increased availability of technology is the greatest driver of increased healthcare employment, says Pittman. Technologies that were pioneered in other fields, such as patient portals or videoconferencing tools, are making their way into healthcare. As healthcare leaders find the best uses for these tools, experienced technologists will be in demand.

Susan Salka

Another area gaining momentum is telehealth, says Salka. "It's an ideal role for a clinician who, for whatever reason, wishes to move away from face-to-face care." While these clinicians would have retired in previous times, that no longer has to be the case.

With today's physician shortage, "Every clinician is going to count," says Salka—and telehealth will allow some clinicians to continue working and seeing patients. As more states loosen their laws around telehealth and patients become more comfortable with seeing a doctor over their tablet or mobile phone, demand for "virtualists" will increase.

Pittman also says that with ICD-9 shelved in 2015, ICD-10-proficient coders will be in demand for the foreseeable future.

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5. Someone to Manage it All
With new workers joining the healthcare workforce, the HR suite is sure to expand, too, as more recruiters, generalists, and other human resources specialists are brought on to help hire and manage new employees.

But HR pros with tech and data analysis skills will be most in demand, say Salka and Pittman. Pittman adds that workforce planning will be important as healthcare organizations grow and become increasingly complex.

Another skill Pittman says should not be overlooked is the ability to engage workers. With physician engagement heating up as a topic, HR leaders can expect to list "employee engagement" as a sought after skill.

"It will be interesting from an HR planning perspective," says Pittman.

Lena J. Weiner is an associate editor at HealthLeaders Media.

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