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Healthcare Staffing Outlook: Strong Worker Demand Eyed for 2017

Analysis  |  By Lena J. Weiner  
   January 16, 2017

The news is good for job seekers, but ongoing high demand for clinicians and leaders means hiring managers might benefit from thinking creatively about retention strategies.

Uncertainty rules as hospital and health system leaders wait to see how the incoming Trump administration makes good on its promise to repeal and replace the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

Even so, healthcare HR leaders can reliably expect a few challenges involving staffing in the new year, owing to the continuing demand for workers, a fact that is not expected to change this year, regardless of what happens to the ACA.

The healthcare sector added an average of 35,000 jobs monthly in 2016, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics' January jobs report, and job growth shows no sign of slowing.

"The demand for talent is rising across the board," says Brian McCloskey, senior vice president of candidate sourcing and digital marketing at AMN Healthcare, a healthcare staffing firm based in San Diego. "It's been strong for the past two years, at least. Healthcare continues to be the fastest growing and strongest job producer in the national economy."

That's good news for job seekers and for the overall economy, but the continuing high demand for workers is putting a strain on hiring managers and recruitment executives.

1. Allied Health Workers in Demand
The healthcare workers in greatest demand this year will be allied health professionals, McCloskey predicts. Physical, occupational, and respiratory therapists, in addition to speech and language pathologists, will be among the hottest hires of the year, he says.

"Healthcare is now incentivizing people to stay healthy, and therapists are where look to support that strategy." These roles used to be "easy to fill, but are less easy than before; the shortage is starting to mirror the shortage for nurses and physicians."

Given the demand for these positions, HR leaders can expect fierce competition in recruitment. Once these workers are hired, aggressive retention efforts may be necessary to hang on to them.

2. Boomers Aging Out of the Workforce
Attrition is a constant in HR, but it is may be especially noticeable in 2017, with as many as 10,000 Baby Boomers retiring daily.

This is expected to affect all medical professions, but nursing is likely to get hit especially hard. "Nursing is a big piece of our total business. We saw the demand start to rise in 2014, and it hasn't stopped," says McCloskey.

With 40% of practicing nurses over the age of 55, creating new job opportunities for younger workers and room for existing nurses to grow moves higher up the HR agenda.

The same is true for physicians, says McCloskey. "There is high demand across every specialty," he says. "We have an aging physician population, and more demand on them, with fewer coming into the market." This has been observed for at least the last two years.

3. Temps Filling In
The last thing any HR leader wants is chaos or uncertainty, but both are possibilities when there's turnover—especially at the top. One solution is to fill executive leadership roles with interim workers, says McCloskey.

"Sixty-four percent of HR workers we surveyed said they have trouble finding candidates for these jobs." This is especially true when a CEO leaves. "About a quarter of the time, the COO, and often the CFO, leave when the CEO leaves as well," he says.

Interim workers who temporarily fill senior executive roles often serve as consultants in the search for a permanent replacement.

Meanwhile, the practice of using locum tenens practitioners continues. A recent survey by AMN subsidiary Staff Care found that 94% of healthcare facility managers surveyed reported using locum tenens physicians sometime in the last year.

"Interim and temporary staffing has been strong at every level," says McCloskey.

While the nation waits to see what happens to the ACA, he remains optimistic that healthcare will remain an economic powerhouse in 2017. "I don't see anything to suggest there will be a decrease," McCloskey says.

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

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