Health Workforce:

Ensuring Adequate Supply and Distribution Remains Challenging

GAO-01-1042T: Published: Aug 1, 2001. Publicly Released: Aug 1, 2001.

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This testimony discusses (1) the shortage of healthcare workers and (2) the lessons learned by the National Health Service Corps (NHSC) in addressing these shortages. GAO found that problems in recruiting and retaining health care professionals could worsen as demand for these workers increases. High levels of job dissatisfaction among nurses and nurses aides may also play a crucial role in current and future nursing shortages. Efforts to improve the workplace environment may both reduce the likelihood of nurses and nurse aides leaving the field and encourage more young people to enter the nursing profession. Nonetheless, demographic forces will continue to widen the gap between the number of people needing care and the nursing staff available. As a result, the nation will face a caregiver shortage very different from shortages of the past. More detailed data are needed, however, to delineate the extent and nature of nurse and nurse aide shortages to assist in planning and targeting corrective efforts. Better coordination of NHSC placements, with waivers for foreign U.S.-educated physicians, could help more needy areas. In addition, addressing shortfalls in the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) systems for identifying underservice is long overdue. HHS needs to gather more consistent and reliable information on the changing needs for services in underserved communities. Until then, it will remain difficult to determine whether federal resources are appropriately targeted to communities of greatest need and to measure their impact.

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