Keeping professionals in-state key to solving health care labor shortage

The health care industry in America is facing a massive labor shortage. Although this shortage has been anticipated for over a decade, the urgency to fill these positions is growing rapidly and certain states are feeling the crush more than others.

Alaska is one of them. Data gathered by ValuePenguin revealed health care labor shortages in over 80% of Alaska’s counties. “We don’t have the capacity in the state to grow our own,” says Jeff Jessee, Dean of the College of Health at the University of Alaska.


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Health care in Alaska is transient, relying on traveling physicians and nurses to fill positions that qualified Alaskans could be doing if they were able to stay in-state to become qualified in their desired field.

“When people have to leave the state…you lose a lot of them. They make connections, they get jobs, they meet people. So we want to educate Alaskans for these health care jobs as close to where they live and their communities as absolutely possible.”

Not only is ‘brain-drain’ an issue facing Alaska, but the workforce demographic is declining. Attracting workers from outside the state, and retaining them, is key to filling these positions. Jessee moved to Alaska as a Vista Volunteer and planned to stay only one year. That was 41 years ago.

“Alaska is incentive enough! This is a great place!”

Key to retaining health care workers is ensuring there are enough programs in place to offer clear career advancement opportunities in a variety of fields. One example is the nursing program at the University of Alaska which offers everything from an Associate’s degree all the way through to Doctorate degrees. Another opportunity is allowing individuals coming in at the paraprofessional level to build a career by moving them up into management positions.

The university was recently awarded $480,000 to invest in behavioral health education at the graduate level. These funds will go toward developing working professionals in several key areas including growing cultural awareness, training in telehealth, and inter-professional development. All this training will stay in-state.

“That’s where we’re really going to Alaskan-ize the health care system.”