3 Approaches to Expand Healthcare Education Access & Outcomes
The healthcare industry faces increasingly dire staffing shortages. Here’s what innovative programs and organizations are doing to broaden access to education and mobility.
Current State in the Healthcare Crisis
Talent shortages are intensifying.
The healthcare field is growing rapidly. The U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS) anticipates that the sector will need to fill over 2 million jobs over the course of this decade.  Rising to this challenge remains a shared priority across healthcare education programs and employers.
Education programs are capacity-constrained.
Faculty shortages and regulatory restrictions make it difficult for many programs to serve students at a rate commensurate with demand. In October of 2022, the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) surveyed over 900 nursing schools across the US on their unfilled faculty and found there were over 2,100 full-time vacancies — not including additional positions schools anticipated needing in order to accommodate enormous student demand. , 
Workers in allied health who want to fill in-demand roles struggle to see ways to advance.
Last year, Guild surveyed 558 healthcare workers across clinical and non-clinical allied health roles to better understand their perspectives on education and career mobility.
We asked members in entry-level, lower-paying clinical and non-clinical essential roles what role they aspired to have 5 to 10 years from now. Sixty-five percent selected low-paying allied health roles that would offer them low mobility without further education. This is a clear indicator of a missing conversation around career pathways in the healthcare field. 
The below chart indicates the factors that survey respondents said influenced their decisions to stay in healthcare or leave the field. Individuals in frontline non-allied health roles (e.g. environmental services, housekeeping) were most likely to be interested in pursuing management positions and least likely to aspire to pursue advanced patient care positions.
However, 66% percent said they would be more likely to pursue education in a health-related field if their employer sponsored their tuition. 
This indicates that access to education can open access to pathways that previously appeared unattainable.
Additional insights from this allied health research are explored in this recorded Guild webinar.
What approaches can broaden equitable healthcare education access and career mobility?
There is a lot of potential for movement for individuals working in healthcare. The BLS anticipates seeing an average of 2 million job openings per year through 2031 to accommodate the needs the industry is seeing both in the form of growth and roles to fill as talent exits the industry workforce. 
Tech-enabled solutions can increase equitable learning access.
The pandemic demonstrated the extraordinary power that online learning can have in supporting healthcare students to continue advancing through program requirements that can be accomplished in asynchronous or remote settings. This can and should inspire us to think more broadly about innovations necessitated by the pandemic. 
Though many learning and policy restrictions were lifted as emergency measures, further leveraging tech-enabled learning can, with the support of appropriate regulatory bodies, help more students fulfill their didactic requirements.  This includes students learning in more rural or isolated education “deserts,” as well as other learner populations, including working adults.
Known interventions that support working adult learners can help.
A white paper co-written by Guild and ANCC, Pathways to Lessen the Nursing Shortage and Increase Equity in the Field for Working Adult Learners, highlights three key ways that schools of nursing and regulatory bodies can deploy and support to help more working learners earn nursing credentials more equitably and expediently:
1. Competency-Based Education (CBE): Prioritizing student learning as a measure of progress (rather than time spent in the classroom)
A key hallmark of CBE is not only that it is designed intentionally to help learners demonstrate mastery of specific competencies that tie to their career aspirations — but that these skill sets are communicated transparently by the program prior to enrollment.  This transparency, combined with hands-on coursework, can equip RNs to enter the field more prepared to practice — and provide healthcare organizations with clearer expectations of the capabilities of new RN hires.
2. C4X: Credit for existing competencies and experience to help eliminate learner experience redundancies and accelerate program completion
Learning can happen anywhere. Institutions that can measure and qualify classroom and on-the-job learning —and provide learners with credit for it — can ultimately attract more working adults and equip them to move through programs more equitably.
3. Stackable learning: Breaking a degree down into its requisite parts to create flexible, non-sequential learning pathways
To enable students to advance today without sacrificing the opportunity to continue making progress toward a degree, some education programs are offering onramps in the form of stackable credentials. Such programs can enable students to gain in-demand skills for higher-paying future-aligned roles today, along with knowing credentials earned can be applied toward degree requirements. 
Clear mobility pathways will help current and prospective learners see where their education can take them.
Employers bear a responsibility to support their talent in understanding the potential pathways their careers could take. Innovative employers are already doing this work — as outlined in The Josh Bersin Company’s recent report, which details a healthcare-specific case study (view a few takeaways here). 
Education programs can further help healthcare students navigate career options and entry points. Ensuring familiarity with corporate skilling needs and helping students disambiguate potential pathways can broaden learners’ horizons and better position them for fulfilling careers.
There is no shortage of interventions that can empower more individuals to fulfill their aspirations to pursue a career in healthcare. When mission-aligned partners come together, opportunity is created and seized.
Talk to our team to learn more about Learning Partnership opportunities with Guild.
References:  U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Occupational Outlook Handbook, Healthcare Occupations,” 2022. Projected labor needs from 2021-2031. Accessed 1 December 2022.  American Association of Colleges of Nursing, “Special Survey on Vacant Faculty Positions for Academic Year 2022-2023,” 2022.  American Association of Colleges of Nursing, “Nursing Faculty Shortage,” 2022. Accessed 1 December 2022. The fact sheet references a 2021-2022 report on baccalaureate and graduate program nursing enrollments and graduation which found that 91,938 qualified applications were rejected for these programs as a result of a variety of factors, with most schools citing faculty shortages as the reason.  Guild, “Webinar: How Schools Can Improve Education Access and Outcomes for Aspiring Allied Health Professionals,” February, 2022. Results based on an October, 2021 online panel aggregator survey of 558 allied healthcare workers (including frontline, non-clinical roles), with no credential above a bachelor’s degree, and a working week of at least 20 hours. These parameters were established with the aim of recruiting a sample of workers in the healthcare industry, over indexing on the perceptions and experiences of frontline workers in need of routes to socioeconomic mobility.  U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Occupational Outlook Handbook, Healthcare Occupations,” 2022. Projected labor outlook from 2021-2031. Accessed 1 December 2022.  Guo, M.Z., Allen, J., Sakumoto, M. et al. “Reimagining Undergraduate Medical Education in a Post-COVID-19 Landscape,” The Journal of General Internal Medicine, 2022.  Guild, “Gearing Up: How Competencies Enable the Agile Work-Learn Model,” 2020.  Guild’s cumulative internal data as of 07.01.2022 compared to the National Center for Education Statistics report, August 2014.  EDUCAUSE, “EDUCAUSE 2022: Stackable Credentials Give Students a Roadmap to the Career They Want,” 2022.  The Josh Bersin Company, “Career Pathways: Building Tomorrow’s Workforce Today,” p. 20, 2022