Opinion

As Health Care Evolves, Higher Education Must Keep Pace

Nothing is more important than our health and the health of our loved ones. When trying to stay healthy, or treat an illness, we depend on expertise and support from doctors, nurses and other health care professionals. With more people in need and receiving care than ever before, America’s health care industry is at a true tipping point. The growth in demand for care has outpaced the recruitment and training of professionals to meet the critical needs of our population, and this gap will only increase in years to come.

Despite the fact that health care workforce shortages are not yet severe enough to have a catastrophic impact, we do know that Americans already have concerns about the current state of health care in our country. Not just about the costs of care and securing insurance coverage, but also about having access to the best care from trained medical professionals.

A recent survey by Morning Consult commissioned by University of Phoenix College of Health Professions found that 79 percent of U.S. adults are concerned about the quality of health care services, with 71 percent expressing concern about medical error. This survey also found that 63 percent of Americans are concerned about access to medical facilities, like hospitals and pharmacies, with 66 percent raising concerns about the availability of home health care services.

Addressing current health care workforce shortages is a critical step in addressing consumer concerns, and will be essential to the long-term success and sustainability of providing access to quality health care in the U.S. Consider this, in the decade between 2014 and 2024, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Career Outlook estimates roughly 3.8 million health care-related jobs will need to be filled—jobs that require advanced education and training. Health care is not only the fastest growing employment sector in America, but it also soon will become the largest employment sector in the country.

From the medical first responder on the scene at critical moments, to the nurse at the bedside of our loved ones, or the hospital administrator who ensures our health records stay private and secure, these professionals are essential to the delivery of care in our country. Institutions of higher education must be committed to producing a dynamic, tech-savvy health care workforce to sustain, innovate and move the industry forward, because health care organizations are only as strong as their local workforce.

As the Interim Executive Dean for the University of Phoenix College of Health Professions, I oversee the college’s collaboration with government, business and industry leaders, to understand employer needs and deliver a workforce that meets the needs of America’s 21st Century health care system. Today’s health care leaders are seeking tech-savvy, sophisticated professionals who can keep pace with the rapidly changing industry landscape. From the growing use of wearable technology, to telemedicine and hospitals’ and health insurers’ growing reliance on cloud computing for storage, health care leaders need training to match the pace of innovation.

To meet the demands of today’s health care system our country must focus on attracting and retaining quality professionals. All universities must leverage the best of in-person and web-based educational programs to ensure we’re providing convenient options to those interested in entering the field. Equally important is ensuring we’re training professionals to be future health care leaders with an understanding of how to maximize growth, diversity and innovation for the industry as a whole.

We must not just prepare students to fill a role in the health care system; we must equip them to improve the system. To do so, higher education must align with the needs of today’s health care system and provide forward-looking training to create a workforce that is productive on their first days on the job and equipped with the skills they need to be successful well into the future, no matter what the health care landscape may look like.

Now is the time to create the next generation of health care professionals to ensure we can meet the demand for safe, secure and quality health care, because, after all, America’s health depends on it.

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