For the first time in history, healthcare has become the biggest source of jobs in America, beating out other robust industries like manufacturing and retail.
In fact, analysts predict that a third of all new jobs will be in the healthcare sector.
This trend comes as no surprise to anyone in the medical staffing industry. Every year, the provider shortage has gotten worse, leaving medical facilities all over the country understaffed. The demand for providers is simply insatiable.
What we didn’t know, however, was how big that shortage would become in the face of our country’s unique set of circumstances. Now, we’re beginning to see the effects not just in healthcare—but in the greater economy.
Here’s why the healthcare job boom is here to stay.
Surge in Aging Population
Thanks to advances in medicine, people are living longer, which is incredible! But on the flip side, an aging population requires more care.
The baby boomers have a huge impact on our country’s composition, and now many of them are hitting retirement age. According to the Pew Research Center, every day 10,000 Baby Boomers turn 65—a trend which will continue for the next 12 years.
These developments could lead to major medicare and social security crises, as the strain on these systems becomes unmanageable.
Nursing homes are about to get a lot more crowded, too. Aging baby boomers could drive a 75 percent increase in the number of nursing home residents across the nation.
An aging population also means higher rates of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias. Since 2000, the number of deaths from Alzheimer’s has risen 89 percent. These diseases currently cost the U.S. $259 billion in healthcare expenditure. This number could increase to $1.1 trillion by 2050.
One glaring certainty we can conclude from all these stats is that we need more providers to care for our skyrocketing elderly population. Geriatrics will have to dominate the healthcare industry if we want to accommodate our graying nation.
America’s Obesity Epidemic
Not only is our population getting older, we’re getting unhealthier, too. Research shows that less than 3 percent of Americans meet the basic criteria for being healthy.
Here’s what those criteria are:
1. Moderate or vigorous exercise for at least 150 minutes a week
2. A diet score in the top 40 percent on the Healthy Eating Index
3. A body fat percentage under 20 percent (for men) or 30 percent (for women)
4. Not smoking
The one that poses the biggest challenge to Americans is the body fat percentage requirement. Even though Americans are exercising more, eating more produce and smoking less than ever before, the obesity epidemic in our country is ravaging our health.
The state of our health is especially alarming in comparison to other countries. How does America stack up to other affluent countries? Turns out, we come in dead last, according to a 2013 report.
The need for more healthcare providers will become dire as our population and the problems plaguing it grow.
Expansion of Health IT Sector
On a brighter note, our healthcare system has made huge strides on the digital health front.
Telehealth is a burgeoning field that encompasses tools and services, like electronic health records, health apps, digital patient portals and even artificial intelligence assistants.
The reason people are hopping on the health IT bandwagon is because it offers several benefits to patients and providers alike. Expanding healthcare access to rural communities, making quality care more affordable and convenient, increasing patient compliance and engagement—just to name a few.
This field is creating a surge of jobs, as well. Now medical facilities need chief medical information officers, implementation specialists, cybersecurity specialists, quality management officers, clinical analysts and other various IT support staff.
A 2014 report from the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society found that over 84 percent of healthcare facilities hired at least one full-time IT employee in the past year, and 80 percent plan to hire more.
Medical facilities and their providers are doing their best to adapt. Providers in particular have had to make adjustments to the technology and how it affects their work.
The digitization of medicine poses challenges but even more opportunities for everyone involved. That’s why the healthcare job boom isn’t limited to only traditional staff.
Immunity to Automation
Though digital tools and services are becoming the norm in healthcare, they act only as accessories for—not replacements to—human providers.
In fact, healthcare is one of the few industries that will remain immune to automation. For other industries like retail and manufacturing, however, the future looks dim.
The retail industry currently employs about 10 percent of our country’s population, but, according to Cornerstone Capital Group report, about half of these Americans will lose their jobs in the coming years due to automation.
Economists are calling it the Fourth Industrial Revolution. By 2030, automation could displace up to 47 percent of American workers and eradicate two thirds of jobs around the world.
In light of these figures, it may seem naive to assume that any industry is safe.
What sets healthcare apart from other fields, however, is something robots can’t simulate: empathy.
No matter how sophisticated an AI software program is, programmers have a long way to go before they can successfully simulate human emotion, which is a crucial element to healthcare.
Pain, trauma, death—health crises are emotional events. Oftentimes, providers have to give more than medical care. They provide comfort and support to patients and their loved ones. That’s something a robot could never do.
Empathy is the key to quality care. It leads to greater patient satisfaction, decreased physician burnout, better patient outcomes and more. Emotion is hard to fake, regardless of how well a robot can pick up on facial and vocal cues.
While automation dominates once robust industries and unhinges the global economy, healthcare will remain unaffected and, more importantly, human—because caring for others is at the very core of our humanity.
And that’s something robots can’t take away from us.