Experts discuss health care workforce shortages and rising turnover rates

State of Reform brought together a panel of experts focused on problems facing the health care workforce in Michigan at the 2021 Michigan State of Reform Health Policy Conference. The panelists discussed barriers to enter the health care workforce, the struggle filling mid-level positions and the effect of rising turnover rates. 


Get the latest state-specific policy intelligence for the health care sector delivered to your inbox.


The panelists included Craig Donahue, COO at Michigan Health Council, Josh Richmond, senior director of physician engagement at Michigan State Medical Society, Kelly Elkins, workforce program specialist at Mercy Health, and Evan Linskey, economic analyst at the State of Michigan Department of Technology, Management, and Budget. 

The panelists first talked about the lack of necessary personnel in the workforce and the grim looking future. Richmond said by 2025, Michigan will be 10,000 physicians short of what is necessary in the health care workforce. He said there are inherent problems in the path to enter the workforce that need to be addressed to fix this. 

“We could change the entire landscape and not really produce more physicians for 7 to 10 years.”

The presenters agreed this problem was linked to the barriers to entering into the workforce. Often, workers need to get a degree which is expensive and time consuming. According to the panel, underprivileged communities have an especially tough time due to monetary and responsibility constraints. 

Lack of demand for education and training in medicine leads to the difficulty to fill mid-level positions in all silos of the health care industry, according to Elkins. She said jobs like technicians, certified nursing assistants and even registered nurses are difficult to fill.

Elkins said the national turnover rate for bedside nursing now is 60%. Michigan aligns with this national data and is attempting to find ways to keep nurses working. 

Linskey said these turnover numbers are contributing to supply and demand problems in health care. The workforce is getting older and there are not enough new sources of labor to replace the older workforce. According to Linskey, this creates a decreasing supply met with an increasing demand for all types of health services. 

“Michigan is an interesting state from a demographic perspective. We are seeing health care grow everywhere, but demographically we are not growing, especially our working age population. Not only is health care growing, but we are trying to take a larger piece of the same sized pie. We will have to find new sources of labor that we didn’t have before.”

With the changing demographics comes a change in work culture when it comes to hours and productivity, said Richmond. 

“The men in medical school expect a different work-life balance than the physicians they are replacing who are retiring. [They are expecting] more time at home and [are less likely] to want to work 70 or 80 hours a week. From a human standpoint, that is certainly appropriate, but you have to replace those hours of productivity somewhere.”