In a series of four posts, we explore key issues raised by the Affordable Care Act and how we need more health care providers to meet the needs of the many new enrollees. In the third post made last week, we asked for your thoughts on how we can increase the racial/ethnic diversity of our health care workforce. This week, we conclude by exploring the importance of engaging youth at early stages about pursuing health care professions.
By Patricia Marrone Bennett
The Affordable Care Act (ACA) pledged funding to support enlarging and diversifying our country’s current health care workforce. For example, it contributed $11 billion towards creating 350 additional community health centers and $1.5 billion to the National Health Services Corps to support a professional loan repayment program for providers working in underserved rural counties or inner cities. While these appropriations are important and necessary, they may not significantly increase the quantity and diversity of this country’s future health care workforce. In order to find long-term solutions for achieving adequate numbers and diversity of health care providers, we must start with implementation of fundamental reforms in our pre-college education systems. We need to pursue strategies that create an interest in health care professions amongst our youth – especially youth of African American and Latino backgrounds. There is a critical need to increase the number and diversity of students pursuing careers requiring expertise in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM), including health professions. Creating and supporting pipeline programs for middle and high school students to pursue undergraduate and graduate STEM studies is imperative. Providing minority role models and hands-on experiences for young students will serve to demystify the health care fields and show youth the positive impact that they can have in their communities. What are some of your ideas for engaging youth in pursuing careers in health care services?