As provisions of the Affordable Care Act continue to take effect, an estimated 30 million more Americans will obtain health insurance. Many will become more active users of the healthcare system, which is already struggling to meet growing patient demands. More patients will further strain a workforce already facing worker shortages and facilities swelling with aging baby boomers and the elderly.
The healthcare industry could add 3.5 million jobs by decade’s end, but many of these positions may remain vacant. Due to retirement, insufficient educational capacity, and the rising medical needs of an older population, by 2020 the Association of American Medical Colleges predicts a deficit of 45,000 physicians. By that same time, the US Health Resources and Services Administration forecasts over 1 million registered nursing positions will also go unfilled.
Higher education will play a vital role in broadening nurses’ career options. Although two-year programs are faster, state regulators and hospitals are increasingly requiring a bachelor’s or higher nursing degree, because these credentials help boost registered nurses’ safety and prepare them to learn and lead.
While the healthcare sector may not be able to sustain its growth trajectory indefinitely, all of these factors point to continued healthy job prospects for those willing to complete clinical and technical training.
– Dr. Tracey Wilen-Daugenti is the author of "Society 3.0: How Technology is Reshaping Education, Work, and Society." A visiting scholar at Stanford University’s Media X program, she is also vice president and managing director of Apollo Research Institute, which conducts research on the value of education for the workforce.