[caption id="attachment_221117" align="aligncenter" width="1024"] Delaware continues to have a workforce shortage for most health care positions, and some creative efforts may be able to help fill gaps. | PHOTO COURTESY OF ONLINE MARKETING/UNSPLASH[/caption]
After the pandemic, it’s no longer a secret to most that our health care workforce is increasingly being stretched thin.The number of primary care physicians in Delaware has fallen by more than 5% over the last decade, and there are similar shortages of nurses, pharmacists and specialists too. Much of the available data predates the pandemic, and we already know that thousands of licensed health care practitioners left the workforce statewide after being burned out by the experience during COVID.
[caption id="attachment_222223" align="alignright" width="300"] Jacob Owens Editor Delaware Business Times[/caption]
Efforts to refill the ranks at hospitals, outpatient centers, private practices, nursing homes and more have been ramped up in recent years, but more will need to be done to stay competitive in the congested mid-Atlantic market. Health care is a stress-filled profession that often comes with a significant financial barrier to entry through degree and certification programs but is one integral to the well-being and future success of our overall community.In Delaware, the need for health care workers is only being exacerbated by our influx of new residents, who are increasingly retirees looking to enjoy coastal living with an advantageous tax climate. Between 2010 and 2020, the First State saw a 54% increase in residents 65 and older. We are now the sixth oldest state by population, where nearly one in five residents is at least 65 years old, according to the 2020 U.S. Census. That figure is only likely to grow as the flood of new residents buy newly built homes in burgeoning areas of Sussex and southern New Castle counties.An aging population will turn to its local health care system, and without adequate resources patients will ultimately bear the burden. Between 1998 and 2018, Delaware patients saw the average wait time for a primary care appointment increase from 8.2 days to 23.5, according to a 2021 study. It’s likely even longer now.That will also be impacted in the near term by an impending wave of retirements, as a quarter of Delaware physicians are over 65, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges, and nearly a third of physicians weren’t sure they would still be practicing by 2026, according to a survey.So, the need is obvious and imminent, but what can Delaware do to reverse the trend?The good news is that work has already begun, including increasing the number of available residencies to medical school graduates by starting new programs at hospitals around the state. Studies have shown that resident physicians are more likely to stay in a region following the end of their programs.Delaware has also sought to lower the financial burden on doctors and other medical personnel through the creation of the Health Care Provider Loan Repayment Program, which could pay eligible clinicians up to $50,000 per year in loan repayment for up to four years for working in the state. That program operates on top of a federal program with similar terms that targets underserved areas, meaning a new doctor could potentially wipe their student debt nearly clean by working in a rural area of Delaware.The First State is not alone in these types of programs, however, and it means that Delaware must get a little more creative in how to draw in – and perhaps more importantly retain – new health care workers.The Delaware Division of Public Health (DPH) commissioned a social media marketing campaign that will target medical school students about a career in Delaware, which is a good start. In Ohio, nearly 1,000 medical students participate in a month-long summer program between their first and second years – one of the few quiet periods of a medical school program – where they shadow a veteran family medicine doctor, often in a rural area, and earn a stipend.Delaware could also take a page from Intern Delaware’s playbook and expose resident physicians, or prospective residents, to a weeklong experience that exposes them to the state’s natural resources, culture, leadership and community as a way to help draw them.And it goes without saying that Delaware leaders need to reassess the fact that we are one of the only states without a medical school. While the Delaware Institute for Medical Education and Research (DIMER), and partnerships with Philadelphia universities has done an admirable job in supplying doctors here, the need for a local institution to help grow physicians of the future is rising by the day.A fond farewellThis marks my final column as editor Delaware Business Times as I prepare to take on a new role in the First State.I want to thank Today Media, and especially President Rob Martinelli and publisher Mike Reath, for all of their support during my time at DBT. We’ve been able to create an award-winning publication that has become a go-to news source for many of the state’s top decision-makers, and I'm excited to see where the next generation of journalists will take its products and programs.I also want to thank all the business owners, workers and public leaders who have opened their doors and given me their time – even through a global pandemic – so that DBT can highlight the truly exciting work being done in Delaware.I’ll be rooting for, and reading, DBT well into the future and I hope you will too.
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