Challenges in healthcare education and innovations that are helping to overcome them

Health

According to a report by the Association of American Medical Colleges, there were just over 92,000 students enrolled in medical schools in 2021-2022. This marked an increase of about 30% since 2010-2011. The states with the highest number of students enrolled to study medicine included New Mexico, Alabama and South Carolina. 

Nationally, this represents about 38 students for every 1,000 people. Some states are doing quite well compared to the national average. In West Virginia, for example, there are 89 medical students for every 1,000 people, while Pennsylvania has 65 students for the same number of citizens. 

The numbers saw a boost after the COVID-19 pandemic, with more students enrolling in medical school than before the pandemic. The jump has been partially attributed to the increased visibility of high-profile healthcare providers who struggled to contain the pandemic. 

Enrollment in nursing school has also risen over the years. About 28,000 nurses graduated from NP programs in 2017, about three and a half times higher than 10 years earlier. Roughly 155,000 RNs qualify from training schools each year in the US, but increasing demand for these professionals is putting a strain on training programs. 

How does America compare to other countries?

America is experiencing a shortage of both doctors and nurses. While there may be 38 MD students for every 1,000 people, this number drops to just two by the time they qualify to become practicing physicians. This is about half the number you can expect to find in countries that offer nationalized healthcare to their citizens. 

A report by the Commonwealth Fund found that among high-income countries, American adults are least likely to have a regular physician and access to home care. As a result, many forgo much-needed care. 

The report also found that compared with citizens in countries such as Canada, Sweden, Switzerland and Germany, Americans are least likely to have a long-term relationship with a care provider. 

How is America addressing the shortage?

Many institutions of higher learning have done more in recent years to attract students into programs that qualify them to become healthcare providers. 

The level of education among healthcare professionals has also risen. More nurses than ever before now hold a degree, for example. 

As the demand for nurses and doctors has increased, the need for qualified healthcare educators has also risen. If you want to participate in the healthcare industry but aren’t explicitly interested in becoming a doctor or a nurse, you can become a healthcare educator. 

One of the fastest pathways to this career is with an Ed.D. Healthcare degree, such as the course offered by Rockhurst University. This is a two-year online degree that imparts the necessary skills for educators to meet the healthcare professional shortages that America is facing. 

The program takes just two years to complete, and by the time you qualify, you have the skills to teach specialized professionals in the healthcare field. Among other topics, the course teaches education systems and policy, ethics and legal frameworks in healthcare education and technology leadership. Students learn managerial communication and informatics for advanced practice. 

Before you enroll for an Ed.D. Healthcare online degree, it is a good idea to familiarize yourself with the challenges that healthcare education faces in America and how they are being addressed. 

Challenges facing healthcare education

The COVID-19 pandemic

The World Health Organization has given us the all-clear on the COVID-19 pandemic, but while it lasted, it had a big impact on healthcare training. Social distancing and lockdowns had the biggest effects. They reduced opportunities for students to participate fully in their training. 

Student doctors and nurses could not attend regular classes. Zoom learning was the only alternative for many, and they lost out on important nuances that are communicated in face-to-face learning. 

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Clinical studies were postponed, which meant that many graduated later than they should have. In some cases, sections of the curriculum that had been covered through video classes had to be repeated when normal learning resumed. 

Just like students in other disciplines, doctors and nurses were hampered by their inability to attend in-person classes. As a result, it took them longer to qualify and join the job market. 

Resistance among faculty

This is a common problem for educators in all fields and it is having an impact on the healthcare graduates. 

Although medical education continues to evolve with new fields of knowledge and new technologies, many faculty members insist on old teaching methods. 

It is difficult to get them to participate in professional development programs that impart new teaching methods and techniques. 

The common view is that the old methods they use are legitimate. They have been used to turn out many successful doctors and nurses, and because they worked in the past, there is no reason why they shouldn’t work today. 

In academia, challenges to tried-and-tested methods are often met with resistance, and faculty prefer to stick with what they know works. 

As technologies in healthcare evolve, it is becoming increasingly obvious that it is necessary to change methods of instruction. Faculty members must acknowledge market needs and aim to turn out graduates who are equipped to deal with the current challenges of the workplace. 

Healthcare instructors must also be encouraged to participate in professional education so that they can pick up new skills and update their knowledge of industry requirements. 

Time constraints

Simply put, there is much to do and not enough time. Healthcare curriculums have expanded in recent years, but the number of enrollment years hasn’t. In nursing, for example, although there is more material to cover, courses still take only two or three years to complete. 

Education professionals are caught between the need to equip their students with all the skills they require in the workplace and churning out enough graduates every year to satisfy demand. 

If they were to increase the time it takes to graduate, it would reduce the number of graduates who join their respective professions every year. 

It is a delicate balance and there are no clear-cut answers. 

Traditional models do not encourage collaboration

When there is collaboration in academia, it is possible to turn out high-quality professionals who can meet the demands of the job market. 

However, the traditional structure of academia doesn’t reward collaboration – it encourages individual research and independent practice. Remuneration and rewards are based on what an individual can turn out on their own, rather than what professionals can produce when they work together. Promotions are the same – they are awarded individually. 

Today, medical education is largely designed around small-group learning. Classes are split into smaller groups where each member has a voice. They participate in open and free-minded discussions and collaborate on projects. 

Unfortunately, rewards are still issued to the individual rather than to the group. This leads to a quandary for instructors. As much as they would like to encourage collaboration between themselves and among their students, the systems aren’t designed to award that kind of effort. 

Bias continues to affect academic learning in healthcare

Bias exists in America and all over the world. In academia, most leadership roles are taken by men. In the US, Caucasians dominate healthcare academia. Discrimination comes in all forms, including race, gender, religion, specialty and even geography. 

In healthcare, there is a particular bias when it comes to expertise and specialty. Professionals who train in certain fields find it easier to rise through the ranks and create systemic shortages in the process. 

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If a certain area of expertise is always rewarded, others end up lagging, and it can be difficult to attract intelligent and driven individuals. They would rather go where there are better rewards.

A good example is in the fields of surgery and internal medicine. Instructors in these fields tend to attract higher remuneration and respect, and therefore more and more people tend to flock to them. As a result, some vital but not necessarily prestigious fields of instruction are neglected. 

Meeting the demands of professional and personal lives

Educators in healthcare aren’t just class instructors. Often, they have to conduct research and fulfill clinical duties with their students. Their calendars are almost always full and they don’t have much time for anything else in their lives.

Those who have families find it even more difficult to balance their professional lives with the demands of their personal lives. Each day has to be carefully planned, and there isn’t much time to unwind and relax.

While healthcare educators need to fulfill their duties at work and at home, they must also make time to rest and recuperate to be effective in their roles. 

A good instructor takes care of their health, eating a balanced diet, getting enough exercise, and making some room for a little fun each week. 

Integration of more disciplines into the curriculum

As healthcare has evolved, it has become necessary for educators and students to integrate additional disciplines into the healthcare curriculum. 

In the past, for example, mental health was regarded as a separate discipline, and those who wished to learn about it had to enroll in it as a separate course. Today, many healthcare professionals are expected to graduate with some knowledge of common mental health issues. 

These sorts of additions to the curriculum mean added strain for teachers and students. They have a lot to cover in a very short time, and it often gets overwhelming, especially when balanced against the need to pass exams. 

It is no surprise that many students drop out of medical school. They are often brilliant, hardworking young people, but the amount of work they face before they qualify is often more than some can bear. 

Nurses are also facing the same issues. As the demand for highly qualified nurses has grown, curriculums have grown bigger and the time to qualify has grown shorter. 

Lack of faculty development

There are lots of professional development courses for physicians and nurses, but not as many for those who train them. In many institutions, it is up to the individual to decide whether or not to participate in weekend seminars and conferences.

Because of their workload, many instructors opt to not attend and eventually there is a gap in their education. 

They miss out on what is happening in the industry and on new technological developments, and these gaps are passed on to their students. They also lose touch with their peers and miss out on opportunities to collaborate and share ideas and knowledge. 

How can these issues be addressed?

These are not issues that are easy to solve, especially when you consider the increasing demand for healthcare professionals and the rapid changes in healthcare. 

If, for example, curriculums are more expansive, students need more time to cover their chosen courses. However, this would create gaps in the market because it would take them a long time to qualify. 

There is much that can be done to improve healthcare education and ensure that academia is continually turning out highly qualified and adaptive professionals. 

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Streamlining of curriculums and learning material

Many universities still rely on curriculums that were created decades ago. While these curriculums impart vital knowledge that is vital to healthcare, they can be modernized to meet the demands of the current age. 

By eliminating a lot of the old, reorganizing learning material, and then using new technologies to impart lessons, healthcare education will become a little easier and will turn out professionals prepared to meet the demands of modern healthcare. 

Be less resistant to new ideas

Faculty can be more open to new ways of instructing students. If it takes a shorter time to learn a certain topic online, for example, there is no reason why a teacher should be reluctant to upload the information on a portal for their students to access. 

If an instructor notices that small groups foster healthier discussions, they should be more willing to split up their classes. If students read more when textbooks are uploaded online rather than when they lug tomes around, professors should find ways to make textbooks available online. 

These changes can be implemented if faculty come together and demand that universities do more to support them so that they can produce highly skilled and knowledgeable healthcare professionals. 

Encourage collaboration between healthcare trainers

Why is it that some schools continually supply the market with top-notch graduates while others don’t do so well? Is it possible that by encouraging collaboration between trainers, America can consistently churn out highly qualified doctors and nurses?

When people share ideas, the knowledge base tends to grow. If healthcare trainers collaborate, they can give more to their students than if they work alone. 

Eliminate what isn’t necessary

A lot of the things that we consider necessary in learning just aren’t – they do not contribute to the goals that students are trying to achieve. 

A continuous review of curriculums is important if we are to stay up to date. We must only include what is relevant to today’s students. This leaves time for trainers to cover more relevant material.

Learn from the past

America has a shortage of healthcare professionals. How did we get here, and what important lessons have we learned along the way?

There is a tendency to ignore history, especially when we feel that things aren’t so bad. As long as we can produce a certain number of doctors and nurses each year, there isn’t so much wrong with the system, right? Not really. We must look at the bigger picture. How did we end up lagging behind countries such as Canada, Sweden and Denmark? What did they do in the last 50 years that America failed to do?

Historical comparisons help us identify the mistakes we have made along the way so that we don’t repeat them in the future. 

As a country, we must also be willing to learn from other nations that have models that work. Are there things they are doing that we could also be doing to help provide better healthcare to Americans? If there are lessons to be learnt, we must be humble enough to borrow from them. 

Conclusion

Healthcare training in America can be improved. We are faced with many challenges, and although there have been significant steps to address some issues, others continue to loom large. 

Highly trained professionals are needed, and one way to join their cadre is to enroll in an Ed.D.

Healthcare. The course teaches modern methods of instruction and how to overcome current healthcare challenges. 

When you qualify, you will join healthcare academia and you can keep climbing the ranks by engaging in ongoing professional education. 

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