The Growing Problem of a Shrinking Healthcare Technology Management Workforce
By George Hampton
There’s no way to sugarcoat it: The healthcare technology management field is desperate for new blood. The shrinking healthcare technology management workforce is a growing problem.
Today’s healthcare management technology field is an aging and shrinking workforce. It’s predicted we will lose 20 percent of our workforce to retirement in just the next 5 years. We need to fill about 8,000 jobs just to remain at our current levels, which unfortunately are not meeting current demand. This data does not take into consideration the predictions we also will see significant growth in healthcare technology over the same time period —meaning even more healthcare technology management professionals are needed to keep up.
What’s the answer? In short, it’s taking action—now—to engage more young people in the healthcare technology management field.
I have two big ideas about how to do that. But first let me share a story.
Getting Young People Excited About Healthcare Technology Management
I recently spoke to my nephew, who just graduated from college with a degree in electrical engineering and a minor in software programming. I asked him how his job hunting was going. His response: “Horribly!” He said he’s finding he’s either too educated or under-qualified for the jobs he’s looking into.
I listened to my nephew talk about the job rejections, knowing that sometimes it’s a matter of timing more than fit. But the results are the same: He has no paycheck—or certainly not one that will compensate for the expense of his education. It’s unfortunately not a unique situation for many of today’s graduates.
I asked my nephew if he ever considered doing what I do, work in healthcare technology management—a career I’ve enjoyed for more than three decades. He didn’t even know what healthcare technology management was. But I wasn’t shocked, it happens all the time.
By and large, many people just don’t know much about the healthcare technology management business. But the worst part is that many young new prospects with technical training, or engineering educations, also don’t know about our business. We are going to be in real trouble if we don’t change that. And fast.
I went on to tell my nephew about the industry I love so much. We talked about the world of healthcare technology management, and the opportunity to actually help people. I was able to sincerely suggest my nephew give clinical engineering a try, because I know from experience it is a great career choice. I felt like the conversation gave him hope and a level of excitement about something he previously knew nothing about.
There’s a lot to learn from that story.
Attracting Young People to Healthcare Technology Management
We need to get more young people excited about healthcare technology management. That’s the answer to filling the positions, bolstering our workforce, and strengthening our industry. My interaction with my nephew is one of many that need to take place if we are going to continue to supply the healthcare technology industry with young people qualified and ready to replace those who are retiring.
In the past, technical colleges across the country had associate degree programs in healthcare technology management that trained candidates for our field. Unfortunately, many of these colleges have closed over the past 5 years, and the remaining programs continue to dwindle. Conversely, colleges and universities continue to churn out engineering graduates who are struggling to find jobs. See the opportunity?
In my past, I had many opportunities to interview individuals with 4-year engineering degrees for healthcare technology positions that didn’t require such an education. Instead I was able to fill open jobs with young people with 2-year degrees focused specifically on clinical technology—which was my preference.
I found the engineering graduates were more expensive and needed immediate training with certain practical skills to make them good healthcare technology candidates. I also believed the engineering grads, if hired, would leave as soon as they could find a position that aligned with their educational background and career goals. I didn’t need to take the risk to hire them because I had better options. That’s no longer the case. There is no volume of a ready supply of candidates with clinical technology degrees.
Solving the Challenge of the Healthcare Technology Management Workforce
To solve the challenge of the shrinking healthcare technology management workforce we need to change. And we need to change quickly. Our current environment requires that we react differently than we have in the past.
I believe there are 2 options:
(1.) ENGAGE HIGH SCHOOL STUDENTS: We need to make a real effort to educate high school students about the healthcare technology management field and get them interested in it as a career path. I’m not shy about how excited I am to introduce young people to a fantastic career that pays well and provides a great sense of meaning and accomplishment. It seems to me many young people would hope for such a career—making it disappointing so many don’t even know about our industry or what it offers.
Organizations like AAMI are ready to join in this effort by providing sample curriculum to illustrate what would be required from a course program to enter our field. I suspect some high school students think a 4-year degree is required and might not feel inclined, or have the money, to pursue such a degree. Removing that misperception, providing some guidance on what programs are available, and illustrating the reasonable cost of those programs could make a huge difference in creating a new supply of candidates.
(2.) TRANSITION GRADUATES WITH 4-YEAR DEGREES: We need to find a way to better prepare candidates with 4-year degrees for roles as technicians. We can do this with on-the-job training or use other training resources we have available, like GE’s College of HTM, to get them up to speed on the skills they don’t get from an engineering degree. It’s tragic some of these folks are working in jobs that don’t allow them to use their education or meet their personal interests when we have so much to offer them in the healthcare space.
It is my hope we take action quickly to begin to explore these options. In reality, we should do both—engage high school students and find a way to attract and transition 4-year engineering graduates.
There is real hope and opportunity to engage the up-and-coming Generation Z, some of which are currently in high school and others are already in the workforce. Gen Z is focused on authenticity and is looking for jobs that are purpose-driven. I can’t think of a better purpose than helping support the healthcare providers who are helping people live longer, better lives.
I believe the best technicians have qualities that don’t come exclusively from the structure or extent of their education—like compassion, motivation, leadership, curiosity, engagement, and a genuine interest to make a difference in the lives of others. Let’s make it a top priority to bring greater awareness to the opportunities in healthcare technology management, put training opportunities in place, and invite more young people to choose HTM as a rewarding and fulfilling career.
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