North American negative demographic trends have been flagged years ago and have become common knowledge as a potential threat. These trends can also be identified elsewhere in the world where the “baby boomer” wave occurred, which came with a significant demographic dip to happen afterwards. We are now in it. This state of affairs deeply affects the way society evolves and functions. It creates all kinds of issues such as economic growth pressures, immigration policy and loss of expertise for lack of replacement capacity to name a few. It also creates a significant staffing dilemma, which is particularly acute in healthcare. To make matters worse on top of unfavourable demographic trends, evolving generational preferences and now, of course, the pandemic impact have further exacerbated the puzzle of finding, attracting and retaining qualified staff.
In 2009, the Canadian Nurses Association released a report suggesting that Canadian health systems would face an estimated shortage of 60,000 qualified nurses by 2022. Even with such warnings ahead, the gap could not be filled in time. Furthermore, the pandemic generated the potential for an even greater hemorrhage as nurses are not just leaving their respective organizations for better conditions elsewhere; they are actually leaving the profession.
The 2009 report also put forth potential solutions to fix staff shortages before they happen. Increasing enrolment in nursing training programs, adjusting compensation packages and increasing nursing productivity were all but a few ideas that were discussed. Efforts were partially made along these lines, with mixed results, but the forces now at play create headwinds that require further action as the shortage is hitting now; and not just for nurses.
Physicians, pharmacists and other healthcare professionals can prove difficult to attract and retain nowadays. In addition to the great professional stress these professions face on a day-to-day basis, there are other competing forces at play. The usual suspects are still present such as better salaries offered elsewhere but there are now also pandemic-induced difficulties that are part of the mix. On the one hand, new constraints emerge to manage the pandemic such as the requirement for health professionals to be vaccinated, which faced resistance across Canada.
On the other hand, the pandemic also pushed health professionals to their limits and triggered a lot of reflection on well-being, family matters and personal preferences, which connect with the generational differences we can observe in the way professional life is managed. Striking a balance between personal and professional lives is now paramount and particularly upheld by the younger generation, which leans towards reduced working hours, facilitated life logistics, milder stress levels, greater autonomy and the likes. So, what can we do?
Further exploring creative ways to deal with the conditions that may help the health professionals feel understood from a personal standpoint might be an obvious, potentially fruitful, way to approach staffing issues. For instance, offering free on-site daycare may be more attractive than, say, financial incentives. It may not be easy to implement such an idea but still, it would go a long way to help young families contemplate supporting a passion for a healthcare career all while fulfilling their commitment to enjoying thriving family life.
Also, the possibility of decentralizing work shift planning is being considered in Quebec and elsewhere. Self-regulated working shifts could give healthcare professionals the flexibility to manage their personal affairs and stress level. Giving more power to local decision-makers in order to accommodate personal matters on an ongoing basis might also prove to yield better clinical performance in the end.
In fact, these creative ways of dealing with working conditions aim at focusing on the human behind the mask of the health professional and not just the service provider. In that sense, we could refer to it as “mindful staffing” and explore ways to make lives more manageable and enjoyable at work as a means to boost the capacity to attract and retain. Digging deeper into this “mindful staffing” approach is certainly food for thought, wouldn’t you agree? Let me know what you think @ email@example.com. Your thoughts will be great fuel for future articles…
In the meantime, may you be well, may you be happy.