Heavy healthcare hiring softened sting of quits, analysis suggests

Many healthcare workers left their jobs a year into the pandemic even though overall employment in the sector remained steady, according to a new study that adds texture to the ongoing examination of workforce tumult facing hospitals and health systems. 

The study, published in JAMA Health Forum, was conducted by researchers with Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health to further examine how the COVID-19 pandemic affected employment entries into and exits out of healthcare. 

Their findings follow an analysis that suggested the Great Resignation storyline may no longer hold for hospitals and health systems since employment levels have come to exceed pre-pandemic levels. 

The JAMA findings from Hopkins add a bit more granularity, showing that although healthcare employment appeared steady by the end of 2021, the industry saw steady exits through that time — first for workers exiting to nonemployment, and then exiting to other industries. 

Here are five findings from the analysis (accessed in full here): 

1. In Q1 2020, most healthcare workers who left their jobs didn't go to work elsewhere. By Q4 2021, workers exits were dominated by those leaving the field to find jobs outside of healthcare. 

2. More people started working in healthcare starting in Q3 2020 and by Q4 2021, with entry rates into the industry exceeding the 2018 baseline and reaching a level similar to exit rates. The proximity of entry and exit rates suggests that healthcare employers were able to offset more resignations by hiring additional personnel toward the end of 2021. 

3. "While the increase in entrants means that total employment did not decrease by as much as the increase in exits alone would suggest, it implies that health care organizations after the pandemic are operating with more staff with less experience than in the pre-pandemic period," the authors note. Employment headcount may exceed pre-pandemic levels, but that does not hold true for professional experience. 

4. A higher proportion of those leaving healthcare jobs were women, while fewer women and Black workers started jobs in healthcare compared to before the pandemic, suggesting a "net loss" of both demographic groups. 

5. The study used the U.S. Census Bureau's Job-to-Job Flows data as its primary source and state-level data from Q1 2018 through Q4 2021. Alaska, Arkansas, Hawaii, Mississippi and Tennessee were excluded due to data limitations. 


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