HealthManagement, Volume 22 - Issue 5, 2022

The Shortage of Health Professionals Worldwide – A Modern Human Resources Management Challenge

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During the last 40 years, a significant global shortage in the number of health professionals of all specialties (physicians, general practitioners, nurses, laboratory technicians) has been recorded in absolute and relative figures. Given the growing demand for consumption of health services, this shortage has a serious impact on the very functioning of health systems worldwide.

Key Points

  • In the U.K., staff shortages rose by 52% during the COVID-19 pandemic, while in other European countries a 25-35% is already recorded.
  • Reasons of the shortage can be attributed to the disproportionately increasing demand for health services, generated by factors such as ageing, diseases related to modern life patterns, increase of scientific specialisation, assignment of health professionals to geriatrics, physical medicine, rehabilitation and chronic diseases.
  • Younger employees prefer to work in retail stores rather than hospitals or other healthcare providers.
  • Patients may suffer inadequate care, as severe staffing shortage can push some healthcare providers to break the rules, especially in care homes and other small facilities.

The reasons of the shortage should be attributed primarily to the disproportionately increasing demand for health services, which is generally generated by major factors such as population ageing, diseases related to our modern life patterns, increase of scientific specialisation, assignment of large percentage of health professionals to geriatrics, physical medicine, rehabilitation and chronic diseases.


The phenomenon has already reached alarming dimensions. Researchers predict that as in the United States and the United Kingdom that really seem to suffer, the rest of the developed countries will follow the same path, concluding to shutdown of health units. It is a severe staffing crisis, not just one of many other problems.


Lack of younger employees in the U.S. or U.K. is estimated to be at least 20%; many of them prefer to work in retail stores rather than hospitals or other healthcare providers. Human Resources Administrators experience substantial pressure, as open positions remain at an unchanged status for many months during each year. Same findings have been recorded in other European countries, with the Germans and the Scandinavian countries looking mainly for physicians, while France and Austria for nurses. With healthcare professionals fleeing every day, still willing to work hard, but somewhere else (supermarkets, hairdressing salons, factories, hospitality), to fill this 20% gap, we may need two decades!


Last, but not the least, patients may suffer inadequate care, as severe staffing shortage can push some healthcare providers to break the rules, especially in care homes and other small facilities. Especially in the U.K., staff shortages rose by 52% during the COVID-19 pandemic, while in other European countries a 25-35% is already recorded.


What about results delivered every day? Average waiting time at acute and emergency departments almost doubled, while surgery waiting lists also registered new negative records by extending waiting periods.


COVID-19 was the most recent occasion for the problem to re-emerge, but the main cause of it, is sought in our own life-patterns, which have turned the attention of young generations to any other professional specialisations than healthcare. Governments during the last four decades insist on promoting studies such as business administration, marketing, information technology, tourism or even arts, rather than healthcare.


Will we be stronger in the short run, as the pandemic seems to be coming to an end? No, definitely not, as patients prohibited to approach hospitals or primary care facilities now return in droves, many of them with tumours that were left unattended for more than two years.




European governments have to recognise the priority of the issue in order to deal with it on a long-term basis. Changes in the standards that must be noted in principle, in order for the health professions to regain a competitive status requires the cooperation of the Ministries of Health, Labour and Education across all European countries.




Most of the proposals presented above need two prerequisites: money and better human resources management. Not so self-explained for many countries that pay low salaries to doctors and nurses, when at the same time pay is much better for other occupations like banking, information technology etc., while human resources management and leadership are understated.


As the Chinese General Sun Tzu 1.500 years ago, mentioned in the book “The Art of War”: “as a leader, if you embrace your soldiers and treat them like if they were your beloved sons, they would be willing even to die for you”. Human Resource Managers understand that the triumph of management is life - not death of course - but all of us must conclude the same result: as a society, we have to treat healthcare personnel as they are our beloved sons, our beloved daughters, not just employees getting paid for what they do!


This is the most dynamic challenge as healthcare personnel is the only glue our society’s broken health pattern needs, in order to keep going to what we all care for: TOMORROW!


Conflict of Interest

None. 




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