The future is bright for students aspiring to kick-off a medical career in just about any field. Despite some recent setbacks due to COVID-19, medical jobs continue to outpace applicants. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, six of the ten fastest-growing careers are in the healthcare industry.
Although demand promises to be high, healthcare organizations must address several issues in the near future. Staffing practices and compensation dissatisfaction have led to physician burn out rates of more than 40% according to surveys taken before COVID-19. Notable events during COVID-19 increased awareness of mental health issues among healthcare professionals.
We’re hopeful healthcare organizations will realize their role in ensuring employee satisfaction and spearheading cultural changes that will positively impact staffing practices.
For those organizations still on the fence, we offer research supporting improving work-life balance, changing some hiring practices, and shortening interview life cycles to encourage medical professionals to stay in healthcare.
Today’s Supply & Demand Issues
What’s at the heart of this shortage of doctors? Unfortunately, there are many contributing factors.
According to Becker’s Hospital Review, “One in three practicing physicians in the U.S. is over the age of 65 and close to retirement.” Combine that with a climb in the U.S. population (particularly the over 65 population), a shortage of available residencies, and some medical schools still only accepting 10% of applicants and a country-wide 45% acceptance rate; it’s safe to say that the supply chain isn’t adapting to meet demand.
The lack of incoming physicians is compounded by the lack of work-life balance in medicine. People in medicine are switching careers, and younger generations are avoiding medicine altogether because of this reputation.
According to the Stanford Medicine’s 2020 Health Trends Report, “Among physicians and residents surveyed, nearly one in five would change their career path if they were given the opportunity to do so, citing poor work-life balance and administrative burdens as the top reasons for reconsidering a medical career.”
Becker’s Hospital Review provided a bleaker look at physician views of employment. “Nearly a quarter of physicians regret their career choice and over a third are unlikely to encourage young people to enter the field. In addition to the 23 percent of physicians who would not choose to become a physician again if they could turn back time, 21 percent of physicians said that they would not choose a healthcare profession at all.”
We believe that medical organizations must address these complaints by putting new shift standards in place, prioritizing attrition and succession planning, forward filling key positions, and revisiting compensation practices. This will require significant cultural changes but promise many rewards in the long term.
In addition to overall shortages, several technological advancements have created new positions, such as genetic counseling, technicians supporting genetic screening, and bioprinting specialists. Between COVID-19 and the multiple pandemic near-misses in the recent past, we don’t see the demand in epidemiology and supporting laboratory functions going away any time soon.
There are large gaps in readiness for some of the most critical new healthcare developments, such as telemedicine and personalized medicine on the administrative front. In particular, general practitioners will need support adjusting to patient expectations because we don’t see telehealth demand disappearing with COVID-19.
Tomorrow’s Supply & Demand Issues
The U.S. population continues to outpace graduating nurses and physicians, with anticipated career growth particularly steep in geriatric care. As we mentioned in our previous article, assisted living practitioners, in-home care, speech-language pathologists, occupational therapy, and physical therapists continue to be in high demand despite COVID-19 worries.
Oncology, nephrology, pulmonologists, and cardiologists will continue to be in high demand. Pulmonology and cardiology may be further inundated with recovered COVID-19 patients.
We’re also seeing very high tech developments that are already creating new positions in the medical field.
Many oncologists are applying cancer genomics to patient treatment plans, analyzing tumor cell DNA to determine which treatments will be the most effective. As genomic analysis becomes more efficient and affordable, we anticipate other specialties will benefit from similar practices.
Positions currently available in this field include genomic medicine clinicians, genetic counselors, and genomic data scientists. There’s additional demand in technology development, genomic researchers, and Ethical, Legal, and Social Implications (ELSI) Research.
People have long been searching for an alternative to human and animal pharmaceutical research, and we may be on the cusp of an alternative. Computer models that incorporate a holistic view of biological processes in the human body may be replacing–and expediting–medical trials in the near future.
Data scientists and medical researchers with advanced analytical skills will be needed to support these research methods.
Today, 3D bioprinters are capable of printing simple tissue. In the future, the goal is to print complex, essential organs. In the shorter term, socioethical researchers will be in high demand as we explore how to make the technology widely available, whether printed biomaterials will break down faster than natural tissues, and implications of bio-incompatibility.
The leaps and bounds prosthetics have taken over the last ten years have been astounding, with more advancements on the horizon. We’ve seen consciously controlled limbs, 3D printed limbs, and mechanotactile sensory feedback.
Research is progressing on the retinal implant, spinal implant, and oral implant fronts, promising people more autonomy from a wide range of impairments. Technologists, researchers, data scientists, and prostheticists will continue to see an expansion of careers and a need for continued education to stay on top of the latest trends.
The Future Is Looking More Data-Driven
Throughout this article, you may have noticed many mentions of demand for data scientists. Clinical data specialists, clinical statisticians, and data analysts will have a big role to play in the future despite the fear that artificial intelligence will replace these roles.
Artificial intelligence takes many forms. IBM’s Watson is an excellent example of information retrieval. Information retrieval artificial intelligence is dependent on humans to tell it what to look for. Then it returns possible matches, with algorithms running in the background that continuously improve its identification capabilities.
Structured artificial intelligence models rely on data scientists to build a baseline trending model with decision trees, and then the AI makes decisions based on the best historical outcomes. This can be problematic for newly discovered viruses or diseases that do not have an existing baseline and do not behave similarly to well-known diseases. It also relies on structured data that is pre-selected by data scientists, which introduce potential for bias. Most worrisome is the potential for algorithms to perpetuate established biases, as was the case for Amazon’s recruiting software.
Most recently, there has been a breakthrough with unsupervised artificial intelligence. These models can look across pre-selected data sets and unstructured data. This is an exciting development because of not only the potential to analyze unstructured data but to eliminate human bias from algorithms and data selection. The job of unsupervised algorithms is to surface patterns to humans who then decide how to apply findings.
Why does this matter?
The potential applications for unstructured artificial intelligence are very exciting. Doctors can be armed with more information when developing a treatment plan. Research stuffed in journal archives can be automatically surfaced, flagging potential medicine interaction risks much sooner for the FDA. This kind of supportive research could also empower patients when making decisions about their own treatment.
We don’t see the need for data scientists, analysts, or statisticians declining any time soon, particularly with a potential shift to unstructured models in the future.
In summary, medical careers are and will continue to be very stable. While we may not be able to see what new careers will come from technological advances, we know future generations will have more jobs to choose from and will be armed with more information when making decisions about patient care.