TRENDWATCH: Hospital and Health System Workforce Strategic Planning

America’s hospitals and health systems are at the center of their communities, both as providers of critical services and as large – and often the largest – employers. They train tomorrow’s health care providers and cultivate future leaders by building and expanding their dynamic workforces to effectively keep pace with health care trends, evolving technology and broader socio-cultural trends.

Across health care, job openings are at record highs. Using Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data, Forbes estimated that in December 2018 there were "over 1.2 million health care jobs open … a 17.9% increase year over year.”1 This TrendWatch is intended to highlight emerging trends in workforce, as well as outline key strategies and tools to embrace new opportunities and address challenges. Although there are challenges, there also are opportunities to improve care, motivate and re-skill staff, and modernize processes and business models that reflect the shift toward providing the right care, at the right time, in the right setting.

The workforce trends discussed in this paper fall within six broad categories: professional shortages; financial pressures; burnout; workplace violence; the evolving workforce; and diversity. These categories were identified based on input from hospital and health system leaders and are consistent with themes that emerged from a targeted literature review.

Labor is the largest single cost for most hospitals, and the workforce is essential to the critical mission of providing life-saving care. While workforce challenges are formidable, so are the tools available to hospitals and health systems. Each section of this paper includes a discussion of strategies hospitals are using to convert challenges into opportunities.

This TrendWatch is not intended to be an exhaustive catalogue of all workforce-related issues. Instead, it summarizes key trends and can be used to foster strategic discussion and planning within hospitals and among communities they serve.


1. Levick, Richard. “Five Steps to Heal the Healthcare Workforce Shortage Crisis,” forbes.com, Dec. 05, 2018.

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