New York, September 28, 2021 – Even before COVID-19, the US healthcare labor market faced remarkable challenges with the demand for healthcare professionals outpacing supply. As the US continues to grapple with the pandemic, those healthcare professionals will get stretched further. Mercer’s “2021 External Healthcare Labor Market Analysis” released today identifies four key trends impacting the US healthcare labor market over the next five and ten years, and reveals how the healthcare industry needs to adapt to address future labor shortages.
“The healthcare workforce is burned-out following a nearly two-year face-off against COVID-19. The demands placed on healthcare workers since the start of the pandemic have been unrelenting and overall, this data shows that there will not be enough healthcare workers to fill demand in the near future, said John Derse, Healthcare Industry Leader, Mercer. “This impact will be felt by all of us, regardless of where we live or our field of work.”
The exact deficit depends on the specific role and geography, but a few common themes emerge: the US is losing healthcare professionals to burnout and at a rate faster than expected, a significant portion of physicians plan to retire, and there will be a sharp increase in demand for mental health professionals and low-wage healthcare workers in the near term. Every state is different, and every healthcare system should assess how anticipated projections to their external labor markets will ultimately affect workforce strategies and patient outcomes in the coming years.
1. There will be a shortage of healthcare workers at the low-end of the wage spectrum, which will directly impact access to home care
About 9.7M individuals currently work in critical, albeit lower-wage, healthcare occupations (e.g., medical assistants, home health aides, nursing assistants, etc.). The need for these workers is likely to grow in the coming years, as the aging population will increase demand for healthcare workers while healthcare labor is permanently leaving these occupations. In fact, Mercer’s research shows more than 6.5M individuals will permanently leave this critical workforce in the near future. The result – a substantial shortage of workers in the next five years. New York and California will have the largest labor shortages of this workforce, each projected to fall short by over 500,000 workers by 2026. Only a few states in the country are projected to have surplus labor in low-wage healthcare workers, including Washington, Georgia and South Carolina.
2. Primary care will increasingly be provided by non-physicians
The primary care landscape and how primary care services are delivered is anticipated to change over the next five years as 21% of family medicine, pediatric and OB/GYN, and other primary care physicians will move into retirement age. Yet, demand for primary care physicians will grow by over 4% during the same time period. The result will be a shift towards primary care being provided by physicians' assistants (PAs) and nurse practitioners (NPs).
3. There will be significant shortages of nurses in over half of US states, but surplus in some areas of the South and Southwest
Just over 3M individuals work as registered nurses in the US and demand for these professionals will grow by at least 5% over the next five years. With nearly 1M workers expected to permanently leave the profession, over half of US states will not be able to fill demand for nursing talent. The largest projected shortages of nursing talent will be in Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Colorado, Illinois, and Massachusetts. However, in the South and Southwest, new entrants into the local nursing workforce are likely to outpace local demand due to new graduates and historical migration patterns. States like Georgia, Texas and South Carolina may start to build a surplus of registered nurses in the workforce.
4. A hiring rush for mental health providers will emerge by 2026
There will be a 10% increase in demand for mental health workers by 2026. During this time, 400,000 are anticipated to leave the occupation entirely, resulting in twenty-seven states that will be unable to meet hiring demands for skilled and semi-skilled mental health workers. While Massachusetts, Illinois, Pennsylvania, California, and Colorado are expected to have the largest shortages of these professionals, Washington, Texas, Ohio, Florida, and Georgia will each build surplus due to a steady flow of new entrants and that individuals in these regions are leaving mental health occupations at a slower rate than in other states.
“While hospitals and healthcare systems cannot control what’ s happening in the external labor market, effective workforce planning and managing internal workforces can help mitigate their exposure to these risks. Workforce strategies that will position an employer for long-term success should focus on transforming care models, rethink compensation and benefits, and introduce more flexibility into staffing, development and rewards,” added Derse. “Prior to the pandemic, the shortages were driven by a healthcare population that was trending older, sicker and more sedentary. Employers should not wait to transform their retention models to accommodate for all demographics in their workforce impacted by the pandemic, particularly ageing skilled professionals considering early retirement.”
Based on Mercer research, publicly available data, and data provided by Emsi, the 2021 External Healthcare Labor Market Analysis examined the changing healthcare labor markets of the next five to ten years in all 50 states at the country, state, regional and national levels. The interactive map here features a small subset of the healthcare workforce at a broad geographic level and insights from Mercer and other Marsh McLennan businesses on the proprietary database of over 80 healthcare roles, projected over 10 years at the county and metropolitan statistical area level. If you’d like to learn more, click here.
Mercer believes in building brighter futures by redefining the world of work, reshaping retirement and investment outcomes, and unlocking real health and well-being. Mercer’s approximately 25,000 employees are based in 43 countries and the firm operates in 130 countries. Mercer is a business of Marsh McLennan (NYSE: MMC), the world’s leading professional services firm in the areas of risk, strategy and people, with 78,000 colleagues and annual revenue of over $18 billion. Through its market-leading businesses including Marsh, Guy Carpenter and Oliver Wyman, Marsh McLennan helps clients navigate an increasingly dynamic and complex environment. For more information, visit mercer.com. Follow Mercer on LinkedIn and Twitter.
Marsh McLennan (NYSE: MMC) is the world’s leading professional services firm in the areas of risk, strategy and people. The Company’s 78,000 colleagues advise clients in 130 countries. With annual revenue over $18 billion, Marsh McLennan helps clients navigate an increasingly dynamic and complex environment through four market-leading businesses. Marsh provides data-driven risk advisory services and insurance solutions to commercial and consumer clients. Guy Carpenter develops advanced risk, reinsurance and capital strategies that help clients grow profitably and pursue emerging opportunities. Mercer delivers advice and technology-driven solutions that help organizations redefine the world of work, reshape retirement and investment outcomes, and unlock health and well being for a changing workforce. Oliver Wyman serves as a critical strategic, economic and brand advisor to private sector and governmental clients. For more information, visit mmc.com, follow us on LinkedIn and Twitter or subscribe to BRINK.