News of shortage in professional healthcare providers might be common knowledge for some in today’s society. Shortages in healthcare now extend clear across the globe affecting almost everyone.

The health force demands approximately 7.2 million physicians, nurses and midwives worldwide according to the Global Health Workforce Alliance. With current data, this figure is estimated to grow to 12 million and counting in the following years leading into the next decade. The World Bank announced in 2015, “400 million people do not have access to essential health services.” If this issue continues to persist, it could potentially leave billions of people from receiving medical treatment.

A variety of problems are to blame for the visible deficit in health offices. Population growth combined with the growth in aging population is one factor that keeps the ratio of patients to doctors high. Geographic location and physician burnout also make matters worse for the already struggling healthcare system. With medical schools unable to produce a sufficient number of well-trained health providers and practicing physicians and nurses retiring at a high rate, the supply of health workers is decreasing while the demand for them is increasing.

Although statistics and information regarding this deficit vary, groups such as the World Health Organization have released recommendations to address the workforce shortage to potentially one day achieve balanced universal health coverage. “We must rethink and improve how we teach, train, deploy and pay health workers so that their impact can widen,” Dr. Marie-Paule Kieney, WHO Assistant Director-General for Health Systems and Innovation, said in a news release from WHO.

In rural communities in Oregon, organizations have been seeking to improve this situation as well. The Area Health Education Center of Southwest Oregon is currently working towards improving the health of people in Southwest Oregon. By doing so, this organization focuses on a method they call “growing our own healthcare providers.” Offering several programs for middle, high school and college students, they believe exposing the youth to potential career-fields in healthcare will aid in increasing the number of health providers in Southwest Oregon.

“Our AHEC programs focus on providing career exposure and hands-on experiences to individuals who might be interested in a healthcare career,” said Lacey Ferguson, Education Coordinator of AHEC. These programs include Healthcare Exposure Camp, Bright Works Oregon and ReConnect Summer, intern to name a few. The programs are also expanding as well. Previously only offered at one location, the Bright Works Oregon program is now spreading to four locations: Phoenix School, South Umpqua High School and two other high schools in Douglas County that are yet to be determined.

“33% of physicians plan to retire in the next ten years, 40% practicing physicians are older than fifty five, 33% of the nursing workforce is over age fifty and fewer medical and nursing students are choosing primary care disciplines. So that’s the kind of gap we’re trying to fill with our organization, but those are the needs of our state,” Chris Guastaferro, Executive Director of AHEC, said.

The efforts are working. According to Susan Salka, President and CEO of AMN Healthcare, “From October 2014 to October 2015, employment in healthcare increased by 495,000 jobs, the largest 12-month healthcare increase since the Bureau of Labor Statistics began providing such data 26 years ago.” With the importance of people’s health placed as a top priority, the future outlook of healthcare seems bright.

To contact AHEC of Southwest Oregon complete a form through their website or call at (541) 784-3660.

Revised version October 27, 2016 

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UCC’s dental program students: Ethan Van Heerden, Alex Cooper, Hannah Radford, Brittany Dixon, Billie Singleton, Renae Schelin, Tiana Thomas.
Photo provided by Vladimir Sovyak /The Mainstream