Workforce Wednesday: Alaska projects massive nursing shortage
Alaska's healthcare workforce is aging into retirement, and the state is struggling to replace providers fast enough to keep up with an increasing need for care.
According to University of Alaska Anchorage's College of Health, the state is projected to have the fifth largest nursing shortage in the nation by 2030, in part because of a so-called "Silver Tsunami" in the state.
A three-year report from the Alaska Commission on Aging states Alaska has the fastest-growing senior population in the nation. The Alaska Department of Labor estimates the state will have more than 10,000 new healthcare-related jobs to fill by 2026, a more than 20 percent increase since 2016.
Dr. Jay Butler, former commissioner of the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services and acting chief medical officer, calls the figure "intimidating."
"But it's also a huge opportunity because that means there's jobs," Butler said.
Butler has been talking with the next generation of nurses and doctors about why there aren't more young Alaskans choosing to go into the field.
"I think there's a lot of factors, I think one is pay. We're seeing pay go up in Alaska for nurses, but it's not as high as some other states," said Rachel Thomson, president of UAA's Student Nurses Association.
For millennials, it's about more than just money. According to UAA's College of Health, young people also value manager relationships, autonomy in the workplace and opportunities for career advancement.
"I would absolutely agree," Thomson said. "I think that one of the things that I look at is opportunities to grow, and to give input, and to be part of progressive change. I think that a lot of my generation feels the same way. We have something that we want to say and we have impact that we want to make."
There are a lot of opportunities for impact, in a state with so much room to grow. Both Butler and university students agree — it may be a matter of better marketing them.
"Because the program is demanding, it's been hard to get into — in the past, there's been a wait list and that's changing — I think that a lot of education needs to happen about how accessible nursing programs can be in Alaska," Thomson said.
The university's nursing program once a three-year waiting list. A university spokesperson says that time frame is now as little as one month in some cases.
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