Not all heroes were capes; some wear aprons and scrubs. Or that was what the medical community showed the rest of the world through the Covid-19 crisis. With masks and PPE kits on and little space to let the sweat trickle down, doctors and nurses have been battling the virus, laying their lives on the line for more than a year. Could exhaustion be catching up to them now?
According to a poll conducted by Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation, about three in ten healthcare workers have considered quitting their healthcare careers altogether due to the pandemic.
Another survey by Morning Consult found that:
· One in ten healthcare workers has resigned from their jobs since February.
· About 11% of healthcare workers have lost their jobs due to Covid-19, including 5% of workers who have been laid off due to the financial troubles of their employers.
· Approximately 12% of healthcare workers have considered switching careers within the healthcare industry.
While both surveys reported an error margin of three percentage points,they highlight the possibility of an imminent threat at large – shortage of medical staff in the US.
Though the projections seem like small numbers, a rising trend of clinicians quitting the industry could exacerbate the existing challenges in medical staffing, in addition to hurting the economy.
As per data from the Association of American Medical Colleges, the shortage of primary and specialty care physicians in the US could be anywhere between 54,100 and 139,000 by 2033. The association has also found that over 40 percent of physicians in the US will turn 65 over the next ten years, and burnout could drive these numbers higher.
With a projected employment growth rate of 7% between 2019 and 2029,higher than the predicted average of 4 percent for other occupations, the nursing sector looks promising. Yet, the deficit in nursing supply is much more severe, given the projected shortage of over 500,000 nurses by 2030.
The current staffing inadequacies are particularly disconcerting when shortages in respiratory care and intensive care staff are also taken into account. It could overwhelm the country’s healthcare system in the likelihood of another health crisis.
But why are doctors and nurses quitting now?
Some experts say that clinicians’ desire to quit now could be a momentary decision driven by burnout, that they are likely to return to work once they de-stress themselves. However, others warn that there could be more to it than what meets the eye.
Several medical professionals are quitting their full-time jobs to work per diem, which pays three to four times the salary that full-time jobs do.Healthcare professionals who are leaving their jobs for greener pastures are unknowingly setting off a domino effect among the rest of their fraternity as well.
However, not all is lost. Thanks to the pandemic, people have a newfound respect and appreciation for the medical profession. The Association of American Medical Colleges, for example, has found that the number of applications to medical school has increased by over 18 percent year on year.It could take a decade for these applicants to be ready for practice and makeup for the lost numbers.
Meanwhile, health administrators and policymakers must utilize the lessons from the pandemic to build a safer future for the healthcare workforce.