The typical media coverage of the healthcare workforce crisis often focuses on the acute shortage of hospital-based nurses. For instance, the hospital forced to close a unit as nurses, burned out after 18 months of extra shifts taking care of COVID patients, leave for lower-stress, more predictable jobs in outpatient facilities or doctors’ offices.
But we’re hearing about a reverse trend in recent conversations with health system leaders. Instead of outpatient settings benefiting from an influx of nursing talent, ambulatory leaders report that nurses are now leaving for hospital or travel nursing positions that offer higher salaries and large sign-on bonuses. That’s forcing non-hospital settings to reduce operating room and endoscopy capacity.
Nor are shortages just in the nursing workforce. One system executive lamented that they had to cancel several non-emergent cardiac surgeries, not due to nurse staffing challenges; rather, they were short on surgical technicians. “Surgical techs aren’t leaving because of COVID,” the executive shared, “they’re leaving because the labor market is so strong, and they can make the same money doing something entirely different.”
For lower-wage workers in particular, the old value proposition of working for a health system, centered around good benefits, continuing education, and a long-term career path, isn’t providing the boost it used to. Workers are willing to trade those for improved work-life balance, predictability, and the perception of a “safer” workplace.
Stabilizing the healthcare workforce will ultimately require providers to rethink job design, the allocation of talent across settings of care, and the integration of technology in workflow. And it will require re-anchoring the work in the mission of serving the community.
But in the short term, many health systems will find themselves having to pay more to retain key workers, including but not limited to hospital nurses, to maintain patient access to care.
There’s been a lot of hand wringing over the ongoing feeding frenzy among private equity (PE) firms for physician practice acquisition, which has caused health system executives everywhere to worry about the displacement effect on physician engagement strategies (not to mention the inflationary impact on practice valuations).
While we’ve long believed that PE firms are not long-term owners of practices, instead playing a roll-up function that will ultimately end in broader aggregation by vertically-integrated insurance companies, a recent conversation with one system CEO reframed the phenomenon in a way we hadn’t thought of before. It’s all about ademographic shift, she argued.
There’s a generation of Boomer-aged doctors who followed their entrepreneurial calling and started their own practices, and are now nearing retirement age without an obvious path to exit the business. Many didn’t plan for retirement—rather than a 401(k), what they have is equity in the practice they built.
What the PE industry is doing now is basically helping those docs transition out of practice by monetizing their next ten years of income in the form of a lump-sum cash payout. You could have predicted this phenomenon decades ago.
The real question is what happens to the younger generations of doctors left behind, who have another 20 or 30 years of practice ahead of them? Will they want to work in a PE-owned (or insurer-owned) setting, or would they prefer health system employment—or something else entirely?
The answer to that question will determine the shape of physician practice for decades to come…at least until the Millennials start pondering their own retirement.
The US now has more job openings than any time in history—and the mismatch in workforce supply and demand in the broader economy is even more acute in the healthcare sector. While the industry saw significant job losses in April 2020, employment in many healthcare subsectors quickly rebounded to slightly below pre-pandemic levels, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
While ambulatory and hospital employment has mostly recovered, employment in nursing and residential care facilities has continued to decline.
Healthcare’s sluggish return to pre-pandemic employment levels is not for lack of demand. The number of job listings has grown nearly 30 percent since the second quarter of 2020, to nearly 4.5M openings, while new hires have flatlined, resulting in over half of healthcare job listings remaining unfilled as of Q2 2021.
In a recent McKinsey & Company survey of over 100 large US hospitals, health system executives ranked workforce shortages among nurses and clinical staff as their greatest barrier to increasing capacity.
Amid the current COVID surge, many systems are offering sizeable bonuses to attract new employees. These strategies will be critical across the next year, as systems look to reduce spending on costly travel nurses, manage COVID surges while continuing to offer elective care, and forestall further burnout.
But longer term, rethinking job functions, integrating new technology and finding ways to educate and upskill critical clinical talent will be key to winning the war for talent.
While CFOs, on the whole, remain optimistic about an economic rebound this year, they’re concerned about labor availability and accompanying cost pressures,according to a quarterly survey by Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business and the Federal Reserve Banks of Richmond and Atlanta.
Over 75% of CFOs included in the survey said their companies faced challenges in finding workers. More than half of that group also said worker shortage reduced their revenue—especially for small businesses. The survey panel includes 969 CFOs across the U.S.
“CFOs expect revenue and employment to rise notably through the rest of 2021,” Sonya Ravindranath Waddell, VP and economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond said. “[But] over a third of firms anticipated worker shortages to reduce revenue potential in the year.”
As many companies struggle to find employees and meet renewed product demand, it’s unsurprising CFOs anticipate both cost and price increases, Waddell said.
About four out of five CFO respondents reported larger-than-normal cost increases at their firms, which they expect will last for several more months. They anticipate the bulk of these cost increases will be passed along to the consumer, translating into higher-priced services.
Despite labor concerns, CFOs are reporting higher optimism than last quarter, ranking their optimism at 74.9 on a scale of zero to 100, a 1.7 jump. They rated their optimism towards the overall U.S. economy at an average of 69 out of 100, a 1.3 increase over last quarter.
For many CFOs, revenue has dipped below 2019 levels due to worker shortage, and in some cases, material shortages, Waddell told Fortune last week. Even so, spending is on the rise, which respondents chalked up to a reopening economy.
“Our calculations indicate that, if we extrapolate from the CFO survey results, the labor shortage has reduced revenues across the country by 2.1%,” Waddell added. “In 2019, we didn’t face [the] conundrum of nine million vacancies combined with nine million unemployed workers.”
What makes someone extraordinary? As a retired FBI agent with more than 40 years of studying human behavior and performance, no question has captivated me more.
Extraordinary people have a wisdom and way of being that inspires and commands respect. They energize you with their wisdom and empathy. You want them to be your friend, neighbor, co-worker, manager, mentor or community leader.
The 5 traits of extraordinary people
Surprisingly, the qualities that make these people stand out aren’t related to their level of education, income or talents (say, in athletics or art or business).
As it turns out, based on thousands of observations, there are five traits that set exceptional individuals apart from everyone else — but you must have the entire set, and not just one or a few.
Self-mastery brings out your best in whatever you do through dedication, curiosity and adaptability.
Usain Bolt, the fastest human to ever live, didn’t achieve that status merely through athletic ability. He achieved it through self-mastery: He learned, sacrificed, worked hard and remained diligently focused. Michael Jordan, the greatest basketball player of all time, did the same.
But another side to self-mastery is knowing our emotions, strengths and, more importantly, our weaknesses. By understanding ourselves, we know things like when others should take the lead, when today is not our day or when we need to confront our demons.
Start attaining self-mastery by asking:
What areas need attention?
What knowledge, training or skills will help me pursue my goals?
What can I do now to initiate change?
How can I better myself through books, mentors, organizations, video tutorials or online classes?
We’re taught to look, but not to observe. We look to see if we can cross the street safely or what supermarket line is moving the fastest. It’s a passive experience that’s useful, but may not provide complete information.
Observing, on the other hand, is active; it requires effort, but the results are more enlightening. It’s about using all our senses to decode the world in real time for a more informed understanding of our environment and of others.
By working as an FBI agent and as an ethologist, I’ve developed my sensitivity for reading the needs, wants, desires, concerns and preferences of others — all crucial information for understanding and communicating with people.
The most observational people have a skill set that many lack. They instantly know:
What they are seeking and whether there may be multiple explanations.
How context and/or culture factors in.
How they can validate their observations and conclusions.
How to prioritize, separating the inconsequential from the essential.
We communicate constantly. Do it right and people will adore you. Do it wrong and you create doubt, indifference, even anger.
Exceptional communication skills elevate the quality of your relationships. It’s not about communicating perfectly, but rather effectively — and that builds trust. Here’s how:
Address emotions first. We cannot think or communicate clearly until emotions are dealt with. This is where reading body language is helpful.
Build rapport through caring and kindness. It can be verbal or nonverbal: a wave or an outstretched hand to acknowledge or welcome. Mirroring your companion’s gestures goes far.
Be prompt. Answering emails and calls promptly shows that you value others. Bad news shouldn’t be delayed, nor should gratitude and affirmation.
Listen to validate. Listen not only for what is said, but also in what order and how often certain words are mentioned. Repetition of a topic, for example, can shed light on unresolved or underlying problems.
Our actions are the nonverbals that show who we are, what’s important to us and how we feel about others.
You can’t fully master this trait without the previous three: Self-mastery prepares us for possible actions to take based on what’s happening; observation allows us to understand the situation in context so we can act appropriately; communication allows us to give and receive the information and support to act.
Exceptional individuals weigh four major factors when making decisions:
Do my actions build trust?
Do my actions add value?
Do my actions positively influence or inspire?
Do my actions benefit others?
5. Psychological Comfort
Psychological comfort is a state where our biological and emotional needs and preferences are met.
It forms the bedrock of our mental and physical health, driving everything from our relationship choices to the brands we buy. We thrive when we have psychological comfort, and it’s especially essential in difficult times.
Since we’re primed to receive psychological comfort, it doesn’t take a grand gesture — it just takes the right one. It could be a calm voice, a kind word, an acknowledgment, a thank you note, a welcoming smile or suggesting a break.
Psychological comfort is where self-mastery, observation, communication and action join forces, helping you recognize and provide what best reduces unwanted emotions like stress, fear or apprehension.
It’s simple: In the 21st century, whoever provides the most psychological comfort wins.
A recently retired health system CEO pointed us to a working paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research, which indicates that leading an organization through an industry downturn takes a year and a half off a CEO’s lifespan.
It’s not surprising, he said, thatgiven the stress of the past year, we will face a big wave of retirements of tenured health system CEOs as their organizations exit the COVID crisis. Part of the turnover is generational, with many Baby Boomers nearing retirement age, and some having delayed their exits to mitigate disruption during the pandemic.
As they look toward the next few years and decide when to exit, many are also contemplating their legacies. One shared, “COVID was enormously challenging, but we are coming out of it with great pride, and a sense of accomplishment that we did things we never thought possible.
Do I want to leave on that note, or after three more years of cost cutting?” All agreed that a different skill set will be required for the next generation of leaders. The next-generation CEOs must build diverse teams capable of succeeding in a disruptive marketplace, and think differently about the role of the health system.
“I’m glad I’m retiring soon,” one executive noted. “I’m not sure I have the experience to face what’s coming. You won’t succeed by just being better at running the old playbook.” Compelling candidates exist in many systems, and assessing who performed best under the “stress test” of COVID should prove a helpful way to identify them.