The next few decades will see about 10,000 Baby Boomers retire each day, creating a deficiency of healthcare professionals.
The impact of Baby Boomers on healthcare is two-fold. They are leaving the ranks of healthcare providers and placing an increased demand on healthcare services as they age.
At 28% of the U.S. population, Baby Boomers make up the majority of current healthcare workers. As they enter retirement, their departure is expected to strain the healthcare field as more than 600,000 nurses and 160,000 physicians are predicted to retire in the decade to come. At this juncture, subsequent generations are not filling the void left by retiring Baby Boomers.
According the American Nurses Association, the average age of a working nurse reached 50 in 2014, placing a large number of nurses at the tail end of the boomer generation. Rick Wade, senior vice president of communications for the American Hospital Association feels the healthcare industry as a whole has to “figure out strategies to create new workers and find a way to replenish nurses, getting the experienced nurses to move into teaching.”
Women have traditionally formed most of the nursing workforce, but in the modern labor market, women have a far greater number of career options than healthcare.
As a result, the Institute of Medicine has urged nursing schools to recruit more male nurses. Their number has increased steadily over the last 30 years, but not enough to significantly help fill the void being left by retiring nurses.
Currently, 93% of the nursing workforce are women, and enrolled nursing students were still over 80% women in 2012 according to the most recent data from the National League for Nursing.
The problem, however, extends beyond nursing.
Healthcare is expected to experience a shortage of doctors and administrators as more facilities open to accommodate increased demand for healthcare services the aging Baby Boomers will likely spur. There have been more than 500,000 jobs added to the healthcare field over the last decade, and job vacancies in the field outnumber the number of unemployed healthcare professionals seeking work by a ratio of 3 to 1.
Millennials to the Rescue?
The best-equipped generation to fill these positions is Gen Y, also referred to as Millennials. Those born from roughly 1980 to 2000 are the largest generation since the Baby Boom, but luring them into healthcare jobs has proven difficult for recruiters and employers.
Richard Yadon, CEO of Health Career Professionals in Brentwood, Tennessee, believes it’s important for employers to better understand Millennials.
Healthcare companies the need to do more active recruitment than the “post and pray” method, where companies create a job posting and hope someone responds. He also advises companies to get comfortable with contract employees and increased investment in information technology.
“Millennials expect to have the best technology to do their job,” Yadon said. “It won’t be an attractive place to them if you’re asking them to switch out floppy disks.”
For millennials looking to work in healthcare, the future appears promising in terms of mobility and money. Careers in healthcare administration, for example, are expected to experience a 23% national growth spurt through 2022. It’s a position that offers an average annual salary of more than $100,000 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
For those willing to further their education, healthcare jobs pay dividends. Nurse practitioners averaged around $98,000 per year, while registered nurses averaged around $70,000 in 2014, the BLS said.
Also important for a generation whose views on employment may be shaped by economic struggles of the Great Recession, job security in healthcare may not be an issue. According to the American Hospital Association, over 37 million Baby Boomers will be managing more than one chronic health condition by 2030. The need for healthcare professionals will not dissipate any time soon.