Expanding the Healthcare Sector’s Talent Pool

Futuro Health’s education to career programs address industry’s allied health workforce shortages.

By Jenna Hughes

September 2023- The Journal of Healthcare Contracting

The healthcare worker shortage continues to cause employment gaps across the medical industry. Eighty-five percent of healthcare facilities are facing allied staff shortages, according to a recent report published by AMN Healthcare. Many positions in healthcare remain vacant, leaving health systems searching to fill innumerable entry-level to advanced medical roles. Now more than ever, there are abundant opportunities available for individuals interested in beginning a career in the healthcare industry. According to Futuro Health, a California-based non-profit organization focused on improving the health and wealth of communities, 2.3 million additional healthcare workers will be needed to fill vacant positions in the United States by 2025.

Yet, for adults managing jobs and daily family responsibilities, the thought of returning to school to earn a credential can be daunting. The rising cost of tuition is also a barrier for many individuals who wish to pursue additional education to enter the healthcare field.   

Since Futuro Health’s inception in 2020, thanks to initial community benefits funding from Kaiser Permanente, over 5,000 diverse adults will have completed their education journey with no debt and gained the interpersonal and technical training valued by healthcare providers.  With 90% ethnic diversity and over 50% linguistic diversity, Futuro Health Scholars bring cultural competence and lived experiences, which are crucial for improving health outcomes and promoting equity. Furthermore, graduates come with demonstrated ability to thrive in a digital/hybrid environment, which are important skillsets as the deployment of digital health and virtual care become increasingly common.

Futuro Health delivers education programs that prepare individuals for careers in allied health positions. The mission of the nonprofit organization is to bridge the national healthcare workforce gap by continuing to grow a network of educated and qualified health professionals. The organization makes the path into allied health careers more accessible by creating adaptable and affordable healthcare education opportunities. Futuro Health’s workforce solutions are designed to scale efficiency, a unique combination of data and technology platform, enrollment portal, healthcare curriculum expertise, education provider ecosystem, dedicated success coaches, and “Human Touch Healthcare” coursework, to begin addressing the provider’s talent acquisition and retention challenges. 

Van Ton-Quinlivan, chief executive officer of Futuro Health, formerly the executive vice chancellor of California Community Colleges, now oversees the process of connecting diverse adults to education programs leading to healthcare careers. Ton-Quinlivan was named a White House Champion of Change under the Obama Administration in recognition of her career in education and is an appointee to the State of California Governor Newsom’s Health Workforce and Education Training Council.

“Workforce development is a team, not an individual, sport. Employers do not need to tackle workforce challenges on their own,” said Ton-Quinlivan. “Day to day, I am inspired by the ability to connect individuals from diverse communities to good opportunities in allied health careers and the importance of decent educational pathways made available as a way for students in the healthcare field to have economic mobility.”

Ecosystem approach to education

Any solution built for scale to healthcare worker shortages will require more than incremental steps; a combination of best practice tactics and stakeholders is necessary. According to Ton-Quinlivan, addressing the healthcare worker shortage requires an “ecosystem” approach. “We call it ecosystem engineering,” she explains. “No one education provider can provide the needed variety in occupational training. But, because we’ve engineered an ecosystem of providers, we’ve created a robust solution for employers built to scale,” said Ton-Quinlivan.

All Futuro Health education journeys prepare individuals with the skills and qualifications they need to perform in healthcare-related jobs. Learners are empowered with interpersonal and technical skills for careers in allied health positions during their education journeys as a Futuro Health Scholar. Additionally, they receive technical education from a curated selection of programs approved by Futuro Health’s team of experts in curriculum development.

Futuro Health’s technical training offerings range from patient-facing clinical roles to behavioral health and health informatics (IT) programs of study. Individuals can access careers such as medical assistants, phlebotomists, patient care representatives, pharmacy techs, surgical techs, sterile processing technicians, healthcare data analysts, peer support specialists, community health workers with behavioral health emphasis, and many more. Futuro Health now has over 20 approved training offerings across 65 education partner campuses. 

As a best practice, Ton-Quinlivan encourages employers to pool their openings. “The reason why employers need to form a consortium and aggregate their jobs is to match their hiring processes with the volume in which education produces students,” according to Ton-Quinlivan.

Addressing healthcare worker shortages

Futuro Health’s health education programs focus heavily on current medical practices to ensure the development of a thoroughly prepared and stable workforce. The organization consults employers on open employment opportunities and tailors each educational program based on industry needs.

Generous tuition scholarships provided through Futuro Health encourage students from diverse backgrounds to pursue a degree. Many participants are able to attend programs tuition-free, which removes the burden of education-related debt in making the decision to pursue a degree.

In California, Kaiser Permanente, Dignity Health, Sutter Health, Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital at Stanford, and others underwrite scholarships and provide financial support so that learners from diverse backgrounds can receive an education and begin a career in healthcare through Futuro Health.

To further educational opportunities and continue to address workforce shortages, Futuro Health partners with public higher education institutions and health systems including the University of California, Berkeley, California State Universities, community colleges, and employers. Futuro Health is also a partner in a federal grant called the California Consortium for Public Health Informatics and Technology (CCPHIT). CCPHIT “aims to increase representation of underrepresented communities and will educate 700 adults for careers within the public health IT workforce by 2024.”

“The rule of thumb in workforce development is that you collaborate to create a talent pool and then you complete at the point of hiring. To successfully grow the talent pool, the three entities of employers, educators, and community organizations must come together doing what they do best,” according to Ton-Quinlivan.

Futuro Health pre-arranges programs and enrolls learners in all elements of a healthcare education journey so that adults can focus on their career first and foremost.

“It is not an easy task for adults to go back to school. So, part of what we do is build students’ confidence so that they can get back into their studies, whether it be in-person or a hybrid-online format, and just show them that they can manage their family and have time to study,” according to Ton-Quinlivan. “There’s a lot of work done to build their confidence to go back to school.”

Impact of healthcare education

 The Futuro Health programs offer flexibility within a participants’ coursework to allow individuals the opportunity at any point in their career to advance and grow in healthcare. Numerous students who have been through the program have been able to return to school while raising a family, while managing student debt from previous degrees and education, and while employed. The programs have the potential to jumpstart individuals into new health careers, introduce them to a career in the healthcare industry, and increase earning potential, among many more impacts.

For Alicia, Futuro Health Medical Assistant Scholar Graduate, going back to school seemed daunting, as she was paying off student loans, pregnant with her first child, and working full time. She had always wanted to pursue a career in the medical field. Upon becoming a Futuro Health Scholar, she went back to school and found employment at Kaiser Permanente. According to Alicia, “Futuro Health helped me to secure my dream and my passion when I happened to go into debt.”

Another student, Damien, Futuro Health Scholar Graduate, learned about all the different types of career trajectories within IT in the medical field. Damien, through the Health IT Specialist Program, discovered a newfound passion for healthcare informatics and successfully transitioned away from his prior industry, where he was laid off during the pandemic.

“We’re inviting other states and employers to contact us so that we are able to bring education and healthcare workforce staffing solutions to other regions in the U.S. We are actively seeking employer partners if they have a volume of externships or open jobs, then they are part of the solution,” said Ton-Quinlivan.

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