Gen Z's complex healthcare workforce, explained in 30 numbers

Generation Z will compose 30 percent of the workforce by 2030 — and their after-tax income is expected to reach $2 trillion in the same time frame, according to a recent report commissioned by social media company Snap Inc. 

The generation of people born after 1997 is distinct from its predecessors in several ways. Most of Gen Z was raised in a fully digital age, and was submerged further into online communication during COVID-19. The pandemic struck during a formative period of their youth, leading many to rethink their educational trajectories — and the workplace "norms" passed down from their parents. As the most racially and ethnically diverse generation —  and one that has witnessed large-scale economic and social pitfalls in real time over the internet — Gen Z is moving to shake up the workforce as we know it. 

The healthcare industry presents its own workforce challenges, and will receive these new hires at a particularly harsh moment. Many hospital systems are facing financial challenges that clash with Gen Z's high pay expectations, along with staffing shortages that complicate care coordination. 

Here is a glance at Gen Z's outlook on the healthcare industry, including how many of them plan to partake, in 30 numbers. 

  • Thirty-eight percent of Gen Z plans to pursue a career in healthcare, according to a survey from the University of Maryland-Baltimore.

  • And they are considering the field early. Twenty-one percent of college-bound high school sophomores, juniors and seniors are interested in pursuing a healthcare career, according to Encoura.

  • The human interaction that is essential to many healthcare jobs is a promising prospect for Gen Z. Eighty-three percent value in-person interactions more as a result of the pandemic, the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center found. Less than 29 percent say they would prefer to work from home, per a GOBankingRates survey.

  • Additionally, a career in healthcare is a good way to put their social-change skills in action. Seventy-five percent of Gen Z says they believe their generation will change the world, according to a survey from Wunderson Thompson Data. Plus, 82 percent say they want their job to contribute to the greater good, and 70 percent would prefer to "do something meaningful than make a lot of money," they told Wunderson Thompson.

  • When it comes to choosing a career path, Gen Z is torn. Fifty-six percent of Generation Z believes a skills-based education may be superior to a four-year degree, although more than 75 percent still feel pressured to pursue a four-year degree, according to a survey from ECMC Group.

  • Those who are pursuing a four-year degree — and beyond — have shown up strong enough to necessitate more educational programs. Between 2012 and 2019 — the first year of a Gen Z-born graduating class — 1,206 health professional programs were added in the U.S. Sixteen percent of all bachelor's programs launched during that period were healthcare-related, according to Encoura, and health-aligned bachelor's degree conferrals grew from 164,489 to 252,718 in 2019.

  • In particular, interest in public health careers surged after the pandemic. The association of Schools & Programs of Public Health reported a 40 percent increase in applications to graduate-level public health programs between March 2020 and March 2021.

  • Medical school applications were up 18 percent for the 2021 to 2022 academic year, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges.

  • However, enrollment in most nursing programs has declined. The number of students enrolled in RN-to-BSN programs in 2021 declined by 9.6 percent according to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing — marking the third year of a downward trend. Enrollment in MSN programs decreased by 3.8 percent for the first time since 2001, and enrollment in PhD programs fell by 0.7 percent.

  • Generation Z nurses who have already entered the field are showing signs of struggle. Sixty-nine percent of nurses younger than 25 report experiencing burnout compared with 30 percent of nurses over age 25, according to AMEA healthcare. And 55 percent of Generation Z nurses plan to leave the field before retirement, according to a survey from Incredible Health.

  • Understanding Gen Z's unique needs may be key to keeping them in the healthcare field. Seventy-six percent of Gen Zers want to work somewhere that is accepting of a range of identities and experiences, while 73 percent want to work for an employer that understands them, according to Wunderson Thompson.

  • This means making mental health and wellness a priority in the healthcare sphere, where burnout runs rampant. Forty-two percent of Gen Z workers are dealing with a mental health condition, according to an analysis by Harmony Healthcare, but they try not to let it hinder their performance. Six in 10 Gen Z respondents told Deloitte they did not tell their leader about stress or anxiety in the workplace, and when taking time off for mental health, 47 percent said they give a different reason.

  • Discretion aside, Gen Z expects mental health to be a priority at their workplace. While 65 percent of Gen Z workers expect a 401(k), a close 63 percent expect mental health benefits from their employer, according to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.

  • And although they say money is not everything, it certainly helps attract Gen Z talent. A recent survey from Clever Real Estate found that recent graduates overestimate the starting salary by $50,000. They will be unapologetic in asking for what they consider a living wage in the face of inflation and the rising cost of a college education.

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