Doctor Dilemmas, Nurse Dilemmas: New Perspectives on the Health Care Workforce of the Future

The U.S. faces not only a nationwide shortage of certain health professionals, but also regional and local mismatches between available professionals and patients who need their help.

The federal Bureau of Health Professions estimates that there is a national shortfall of 110,000 nurses today, about six percent of the nursing workforce of 1.9 million. By 2020, the number of nurses is expected to rise to only 2 million but 2.8 million will be needed, resulting in a shortfall of nearly 30 percent.

The federal government, spending billions of dollars each year for medical education through Medicare payment policy, has been much more aggressive in securing a steady supply of doctors. But are the right kind of physicians being trained, and practicing where they are needed? How can we best help physicians keep up with the best, most efficient medical practices? Will tomorrow’s health care work force reflect the nation’s growing cultural and ethnic diversity?

To address these and related questions, the journal Health Affairs, in coordination with the Alliance for Health Reform, sponsored a December 4, 2002 Capitol Hill l forum. Health Affairs featured 17 articles on the health care workforce in its September/October 2002 special theme issue.

Gail Wilensky, Project Hope, and Richard Cooper, Medical College of Wisconsin, spoke on physician issues, in a discussion moderated by Fitzhugh Mullan of Health Affairs. The discussion of nursing issues featured presentations by Peter I. Buerhaus, Vanderbilt University; Marilyn Chow, Kaiser Permanente of Northern California; Fran Roberts, Arizona Hospital and Healthcare Association; and Laura Cima, Hackensack University Hospital. Sue Hassmiller of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation moderated the panel. Robert Ross of the California Endowment, addressed diversity as the luncheon speaker.

Generous support for this program was provided by The W. K. Kellogg Foundation, The John A. Hartford Foundation, The California HealthCare Foundation,and The Josiah Macy,Jr. Foundation.