The pandemic further exacerbated an already existing workforce shortage in the health care industry. Physicians, nurses and other critical care providers are in short supply nationwide, and the trend is expected to continue.
A study from the Association of American Medical Colleges estimates that the United States is facing a shortage of up to 139,000 physicians by 2033, and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects the need for 1.1 million new registered nurses (RNs) by 2030 to replace retirees and meet the health care needs of an aging population.
In December 2021, health care careers represented 4 of the of the state’s top 10 job postings. RNs and nursing assistants topped the list with 5,192 and 1,704 openings respectively.
Solving Iowa’s healthcare workforce shortage requires short- and long term strategies and investments, public-private partnerships, and innovative collaborations between and within local communities. It also demands aggressive strategies to retain medical school graduates in our state and begin recruiting future health care professionals at an early age.
Governor Reynolds proposes:
- Strengthening existing programs that recruit new health care providers to rural communities.
- Investing in residency programs that increase mental health specialists.
- Developing high school Registered Apprentice Programs that create health care career pathways for Iowa’s youth.
With national shortages of physicians and nurses even before the pandemic, rural states like Iowa must compete to attract and retain health care providers. Offering loan repayment assistance in return for a commitment to practice in rural areas helps ensure that quality care is available in underserved communities across our state.
Rural Iowa Primary Care Loan Repayment Program
- Increase program funding from $1.75 million to $4 million.
- Expand eligibility to physicians who complete residencies out-of-state.
- Include neurology on the list of eligible physician specialties.
- Allow part-time practice (70%) in a rural area to satisfy the 5-year rural practice requirement for loan repayment.
Health Care Loan Repayment Program
- Increase program funding from $250,000 to $1 million.
- Expand eligibility to part-time nurse educators who also practice nursing in a health care facility.
- Allow eligible providers who do not have student loan debt to qualify for an annual award in lieu of loan repayment for up to five years in exchange for practicing in rural Iowa.
Health Professional Recruitment Program
- Include RNs and Advanced Registered Nurse Practitioners (ARNPs) in professions eligible for the program.
Key to achieving the goal of improving Iowan’s access to mental health care is training more mental health professionals. The state’s Rural Psychiatry Residency Program provides training experiences in rural health care settings for the next generation of Iowa’s psychiatrists.
- Provide $200,000 to expand the program by an additional two residency slots for a total of eight.
The Career Academy of Pella, which promotes outstanding work-based learning opportunities for high school students, recently launched a Patient Care Registered Apprenticeship program that offers students hands-on experience in a variety of medical settings, while at the same time earning a wage. The program takes advantage of virtual reality training and real-world work experience with a local nursing facility and hospital. Before they leave high school, students can become a certified nursing assistant and be qualified for employment in a variety of health care careers, including medical surgical tech, lab tech, and phlebotomist. With some additional training or education after high school, they can also become qualified for employment as an obstetrics (OB) tech or emergency department tech, become an RN or earn a BSN degree — all while getting paid.
This type of innovative approach, and the public-private partnerships that make it possible, are what Iowa’s education and health care systems need to offer meaningful learning experiences that can lead students to successful health care careers.
These opportunities also offer solutions to today’s workforce challenges. Pella’s Patient Care Registered Apprenticeship program is a model that can be scaled and spread statewide, helping health care providers recruit local talent to learn, grow and stay in the community to fill critical, high-demand jobs.
- Establish the Iowa Health Careers Registered Apprenticeship Grant Program.
- Grants will be awarded to a minimum of five applicant communities to start a new high school Registered Apprenticeship Program for health care careers or expand an existing program.
- Awardees will receive supplemental assistance from the state to acquire virtual reality patient care simulation software and hardware to further enhance students’ educational and practical experience, and job readiness.