Inspiring people for a career in healthcare

Patient care can only be ensured through personnel efforts.
Nadine Meru
Published on June 17, 2024
With care delivery sites in Illinois, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Wisconsin, SSM Health aims to facilitate access to clinical care for underserved and vulnerable people. In times of a shortage of skilled workers, this is a major challenge. Misty Jones, Chief Operating Officer, Saint Mary's and Saint Louis University Hospital, USA, talks about SSM Health’s strategic approach to increasing qualified staff.  
The workforce crisis came to the surface during the pandemic. When we started recovering from the pandemic, we realized that the staffing concerns that we were facing were not going to go away just because we were on the back side of the pandemic.
<p>I think with social media and the national attention that we had on healthcare during the pandemic, things were accentuated that didn’t truly reflect the actual care environment. There was a heavy focus on the amount of stress and the high level of mental health challenges that employees were facing because of the care environment, along with the pressures and the criticality of the patients we were dealing with. This has made it difficult to communicate the fact that healthcare is actually a very viable career path.</p>
<p>It takes longer for them to get to a check-up, and this can affect their overall health. It is really hard to tell somebody they have to wait three weeks to get an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) or ultrasound exam when, at this point, they don’t know how serious their diagnosis might be.</p>
<p>We have to focus on creating a working environment that meets our staff where they are, including flexible scheduling options to manage their work and family life. On the one hand, providing home-work life balance, but then also enabling them to grow and develop professionally.</p>
<p>We are actively working with our community and industry partners to develop innovative solutions to solve this crisis. Our top priority is developing apprenticeship programs, which allow us to create a pathway into healthcare for people who may not be able to afford the training. A second way is to look at how to be more agile with the workforce that we have by leveraging technology that allows clinicians to work more effectively and by standardizing the imaging platform so that we can deploy staff flexibly to multiple locations as required.</p>
<p>The workforce challenges start with access to education. It’s expensive to go to school in the U.S., and so we lack a pipeline of young people. We need to find a way to keep pace with the growing demand for healthcare in the next ten years.</p>
<p>SSM Health is very focused on caring for the vulnerable communities that we serve. Economic mobility is essential in these areas, both rural and urban, as is the creation of quality jobs. We are focusing our efforts on communities that have a high prime-age employment gap, meaning there is a significant number of people who are 25 to 54 years old and able-bodied that are not in the workforce.</p>
<p>There are many people who already have a community presence; they are a trustworthy entity and want to help us but cannot afford the education. With our training programs, we can support them and at the same time build a bridge to their communities. It’s only when our health system reflects the community we serve that it inherently builds trust. For example, if the technologist comes from my neighborhood, then I feel understood.</p>
<p>In the day-to-day workflow, radiology technologists spend much of their time getting patients off the nursing floor or out of the waiting room. In some cases, patients need to be moved from a different unit or location. Patients are then prepared, guided to the examination room, placed on the examination table, and positioned correctly. Only then can the technologist take the images. All of this requires processes with the patient that are not normally part of the tech’s role but are enormously important and could be done by those trained team members.</p>
<p>We want to make sure that people who are considering healthcare as a career option understand that they can bring value, that they can help serve their community, and that they can be a change agent within the system.</p>

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By Nadine Meru
Nadine Meru has a PhD in biology and works as an editor at Siemens Healthineers. She specializes in technology and innovation topics.