LIMA — When it comes to today’s healthcare landscape, Dickens’ observation of being both the “best of times” and the “worst of times” might apply. According to Becker’s Hospital Review, the average salary for registered nurses increased 4% in 2021. This gain was even larger than the 3.3% increase the previous year and the 2.6% gain in 2019.
While increased salaries are helpful, understaffing increases nurses’ stress levels, affects job satisfaction and drives many nurses out of the profession.
Patti Baucom, senior human resources business partner at Lima Memorial Health System, notes that the higher acuity level of inpatients creates a more demanding and stressful work environment for nurses, often contributing to burnout. To assist less experienced nurses, LMHS has an on-site administrator and a clinical resource nurse available 24/7 to mentor new nurses and provide additional support as needed.
Dr. Matt Owens, COO of Mercy Health Bon Secours in Lima, said there are an insufficient number of healthcare providers in several medical specialties. The reasons for the shortage are multifactorial. Dr. Owens cited the COVID-19 pandemic as straining the healthcare system, with many baby boomer generation healthcare providers accelerating their retirement plans to avoid increased stress and demands.
Shortages of specialties
Although there is a shortage of oncologists, this deficit is not unique to Lima. Many parts of the country have the same concern. One of the contributing factors is the “hyper-specialization” of the field. For example, some oncologists choose to further specialize in radiation oncology or surgical oncology. Fewer physicians are choosing the “full spectrum” of oncology as a career choice. Providers seeking the expertise developed during hyperspecialization often select large medical centers as practice sites, further limiting recruitment to smaller hospitals and more rural areas.
For a long time, there has been a shortage of endocrinologists in the Lima region. Endocrinology deals with the endocrine system, which revolves around hormones. Diabetes, thyroid dysfunction, and adrenal abnormalities are some of the conditions treated by endocrinologists.
There has also long been a shortage of oral surgeons in the Lima area. Although the three Lima oral surgeons did not comment on the shortages, Dr. Philip Mikesell provided some insight into the problem. Dr. Mikesell is a practicing endodontist in Wapakoneta. He is also an assistant professor at Ohio State’s College of Dentistry in Columbus.
Each year, two oral surgery residents graduate from the OSU program. Of the two most recent graduates, one chose to practice in a metropolitan area and one chose a rural area. Ohio State’s pool of candidates for oral surgery residency remained strong. Oral surgery, endodontics, pediatric dentistry and orthodontics are considered the four most sought-after specialties in dentistry, according to Mikesell.
Successful physician recruitment efforts
There has been greater recruiting success for certain specialties in the region. For example, the Ohio Orthopedic Institute was successful in securing new suppliers. Owens credits part of their recruiting success to the large number of patients they see, providing a busy practice for physicians and the ability to split calls among more physicians, making call turnover less cumbersome. .
Podiatry is another well-served specialty in our region. The podiatric medicine residency, launched approximately 15 years ago, was the first residency program at Mercy Health-St. Rita Medical Center.
Benefits of Residency Programs
Educational programs produce a larger pool of providers. It is estimated that about 30% of doctors trained in the region will remain in the region. The podiatric medicine program is an example of residents who have been successfully recruited, at least in part, due to their affiliation with the local residency program. Anticipating that many residents will remain in the area, St. Rita has invested in the graduate medical school program. The program includes residents in internal medicine, family medicine, and emergency medicine.
Physicians, oral surgeons and nurses aren’t the only health care positions with increased needs. Shannon Williams, director of Mercy Health Talent Acquisition, used creative ways to recruit healthcare workers for technical roles. She cited imaging (CT scans, ultrasound and radiology), physiotherapy and occupational therapy, and respiratory therapy as areas where there are shortages. Williams said fewer programs in schools across the country are graduating certified medical technologists and surgical technicians and that program enrollment has declined. She attributes the “changing healthcare landscape” to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Baucom is excited about the new Surgical Technician program beginning this fall at the Borra Center for Health Sciences in Lima. Students will be able to train in a simulated operating room. Baucom hopes that many students from the program will stay in the area to fill current vacancies for surgical technicians.
Dr. JJ Sreenan, a retired pathologist and current director of higher medical education at Mercy Health-St. Rita’s is very concerned about the shortage of medical laboratory technicians. He noted that the region’s two medical technology programs, one at Ohio Northern University and the other at Bowling Green State University, do not have enough applicants to fill their current vacancies.
According to Sreenan, occupational pathology societies identified a potential shortage of medical technologies as early as 20 years ago. With the average medical technologist over the age of 60, the shortage could reach a crisis state within the next five to ten years. Currently, there are fewer lab technicians in the 40-60 age bracket, leading to what Sreenan calls a “knowledge gap” to train younger associates.
Creative recruitment strategies
With an estimated 1.2 million new RNs needed in the United States by 2030, Mercy Health has shifted its recruiting efforts to try to fill the 266 vacancies they currently have. Among the recruiting efforts are “walk-in” interview days, where applicants can enter the facility, meet with a recruiter and then be escorted to a clinical manager for an in-house specific interview. unity. St. Rita’s also offered free continuing education (CNE) programs for nurses.
Lima Memorial adjusted the base salaries of its associates in an attempt to recruit and retain qualified employees. They also have a secondary school internship program in Bath and Wapakoneta, where students are hired while still in high school and then receive tuition assistance to further their education in the health field. Currently, two students from the internship program are enrolled in courses to become registered nurses.
Baucom believes the rural health care grant provided by the US Department of Labor has been helpful to the community. Funds are available for associates who want to advance their education, allowing them to move from entry-level positions into technical and professional roles. Funding is administered by OhioMeansJobs Allen County. Grant recipients can receive up to two years of educational assistance to cover tuition, books, uniforms, and certification fees.
Over the past year, Mercy Health has partnered with Guild Education to deliver an innovative educational program to eligible Mercy Health associates. Working with Guild Education allows associates to obtain advanced training without incurring financial burden. Although the tuition allowance varies, it may be fully funded for some selected clinical positions.
Associates have the opportunity to progress through the organization from entry-level positions to professional-level positions while retaining their employment and therefore retaining their seniority. Williams said associates can have “lifetime careers with our organization.”
The Borra Center for Health Sciences at Rhodes State College has a simulation lab to provide healthcare students with an immersive experience.
Area hospitals, including the Lima Memorial Health System, are working to recruit potential medical professionals, including this group at the Borra Center for Health Sciences at Rhodes State College.