As we celebrate AHEC’s 35th birthday in October, I am remembering our history and the times we experienced staffing shortages. I can compare those experiences to what is happening in today’s healthcare arena, and it’s easy to see many differences. Supply and demand have alternated during the last 35 years, and what I would witness included oversupply as the shortage ended. Schools and programs would rush to over-enroll students, producing more graduates than could be absorbed into the marketplace. There simply would not be enough jobs to employ the newly graduated population. Will that happen again? Reports of the numbers of graduates taking the ARRT exams have bounced back after the COVID pandemic has receded. But there are multiple factors for the future that affect where the job market is going. For example:
- We thought the Baby Boomers were going to retire and they would be in the patient population.
- Surprise! Inflation kept many still on the job before and after the pandemic. RTs did not retire at the rate expected. Many sought less stressful work than was available in the hospital setting, but they continued to work.
- COVID sent many out of the field to other types of work, not necessarily in healthcare.
- COVID changed the patient referral basis because of the diagnostic quality of CT, and CT scanners showed a 24% increase in installation.
- The Medicare eligible patient population increased significantly.
- The Medicaid population was increased in many states because of the pandemic.
- The demographics of the workforce are skewed toward individuals looking toward retirement.
The most recent 2023 American Society of Radiologic Technologists (ASRT) Radiologic Sciences Staffing and Workplace Survey found that vacancy rates are the highest they have been since the survey was initiated in 2003. The table below shows the most recent survey vacancy rates.
These vacancy rates have produced a change in the delivery of radiologic services. Remote operation for MRI and CT scanners has become a reality regardless of the patient safety concerns. Some states have introduced legislation to remove licensure/registration rules to allow other less trained healthcare professionals to administer radiation to patients. The workplace places emphasis on over-scheduling patients to maximize the number of procedures performed in a day. Hospitals have busted their budgets using travelers to fill in the gaps in coverage. But it is not profitable to allow a scanner to sit idle from lack of staff to operate the imaging. New graduates do not have the experience to alleviate the crisis. Many departments have experienced a mass exodus of employees because of burnout, increased workloads, and differences in compensation.
Listen and you can hear the drumbeat of discontent. It rides high on the social media platforms. The lowering of expectations will lead to more than the “Quiet Quitting”. It is time for employers to invest in their employees and seek to educate through non-degree routes, like providing continuing education for the advanced technology we are have in the profession.
This could continue to progress to even greater hardship. Our patients are the ones who will pay the price. Let’s make a difference.