An estimated 333,942 healthcare providers left their jobs in 2021 – here’s why that matters

The healthcare industry in the United States is facing a critical challenge. In 2021 alone, an estimated 333,942 healthcare providers left their jobs, a staggering figure that highlights a crisis within the sector. The reasons behind this mass exodus are multifaceted and deeply rooted in the current operational fabric of healthcare institutions. Causes such as burnout, extended working hours, unmanageable patient loads and personal health concerns have been at the forefront of this turnover, which is now significantly impacting the healthcare system as a whole across the country.

These departures are more than just numbers; they represent a loss of skilled and experienced clinicians whose absence is felt across all levels of patient care. The implications of such a turnover extend beyond the immediate gaps in staffing. They reflect a deeper, systemic issue that demands urgent attention and action.

Sarah M. Worthy, CEO of DoorSpace, sheds light on the situation with a note of optimism. “I believe that not only can we stop the turnover, but we can also draw people who left clinical work back into patient care. It’s not going to be easy – but over and over when I speak to doctors and nurses, they stress that the real reason they’ve left or are considering leaving is that change is happening too slowly. Leaders are taking too long to make decisions and put budgets together to invest in the hard work of transforming the clinical employee experience (EX). I firmly believe that if healthcare leaders can show clinicians real change – many who left will return to practice medicine.”

Worthy’s words underscore a vital aspect of the healthcare crisis—the need for change. She points out that the reluctance or inability of leaders to rapidly implement changes is at the heart of the problem. The slow pace of transformation within healthcare organizations is failing to retain those at the frontline of patient care.

To address this issue, Worthy emphasizes the need for a comprehensive overhaul that encompasses systemic, technological, and cultural shifts. The cultural changes must originate from the very top, with healthcare CEOs genuinely embodying ‘servant leadership’ rather than merely paying lip service. It’s about creating an environment where clinicians feel valued and supported, rather than overwhelmed and underappreciated.

Worthy shares, “To do this will require a systemic, technological and cultural change to repair this system. The cultural change has to come from the top – healthcare CEOs need to do more than give lip service to ‘servant leadership.’ The systemic component is going to require transforming the way organizations are training their people so that training adds value, not another credential to manage. They need to invest in new technology that enables real-time reporting on actionable data so healthcare leaders can respond to issues faster and proactively manage their workforce. To succeed, leaders have to leverage digital technology and look at talent management from an entirely new lens to see they need to manage the employee experience across the organization and stop managing employee documents at the departmental levels.”

On a systemic level, Worthy suggests a transformation in how organizations train their staff. Training should not just be about adding another credential but should genuinely add value to the employees’ roles and enhance their capacity to provide care. This involves an investment in new technologies that enable real-time reporting on actionable data. Such technologies would empower healthcare leaders to respond more swiftly and manage their workforce proactively.

The final piece of the puzzle, according to Worthy, is digital technology. Leaders must leverage these tools to manage the employee experience holistically across the organization. This new approach would replace the outdated method of managing employee documents at the departmental level and bring about a more integrated and efficient talent management system.

The massive turnover in the healthcare industry is a wakeup call that requires immediate and decisive action. With a strategic approach encompassing cultural, systemic, and technological changes, as suggested by Sarah M. Worthy, there is hope to not only curb the turnover but also to re-attract those who have left and prevent future departures. By addressing the real reasons behind clinicians’ dissatisfaction and showing them tangible change, healthcare leaders can revitalize the industry and ensure that it continues to serve the needs of the community effectively.