Opinion: Want to Support Our Healthcare Workers? Support the Schools That Train Them

The COVID-19 pandemic has taken an unimaginable toll on our lives, livelihood, and mental well-being. As we enter the third year of this global crisis, the emergence of new variants like Omicron and the threat of future ones have left everyone somewhere between exhausted and “over it.” Nowhere is this more evident than among our frontline workers, who put their lives – and their loved ones’ lives – at risk every time they punch the clock and start a new shift.

For those in healthcare, it’s more than just the risk of exposure keeping them up at night. They also face the risk of burn-out. According to the American Hospital Association, the nursing and allied professional workforce is facing dire shortages. The U.S. needs more than 200,000 new registered nurses (RNs) each year to meet increasing healthcare needs along with replacing retiring nurses. And a Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation survey found that nearly 30% of healthcare workers are considering changing professions altogether, and six out of ten reported impacts to their mental health as a result of their work during the pandemic. My native Arizona, home of Pima Medical Institute, is no exception: at present, there are over 1,500 unfilled jobs at hospitals statewide.

What we need right now are creative solutions to support our healthcare workers. One such solution is to support the schools that train them. After all, current and prospective students will play a crucial role in closing the workforce gap that’s plaguing healthcare facilities across the country.

Career education schools like ours have devoted themselves to the cause of providing accessible, high-quality, higher education for Americans aspiring to enter the healthcare industry and make a difference in their communities. These schools provide quality, hands-on training and certifications for future medical professionals ranging from nurses to pharmacy technicians, to respiratory therapists, and countless other in-demand positions. While long waitlists can be an issue, for-profit career education schools have been able to accept, train and graduate students eager to enter the workforce at a more rapid pace than traditional non-profit schools.

Perhaps what’s been most inspiring for me in my lifetime in this sector has been seeing the diversity of students entering the field. They are working parents who want to make a career change to better support their families. A high percentage of students already have a bachelor’s degree and are seeking a career that not only pays well, but one that clearly contains growth opportunities. They are veterans returning to civilian life looking for a new way to serve their communities. They are first-generation Americans who came to this country with the hopes of pursuing their passion. In other words, the 21st-century student may not look like they did in past decades.

After nearly two years of working around the clock at facilities that are “at capacity,” our healthcare workers need and deserve more. We need to infuse the industry with professionals who are willing and able to jump in and hit the ground running. For every nurse who has worked tirelessly for years, there’s a future nurse who has been inspired to lean in and do their part.

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