A key element of access to health care is a well-distributed, capable and qualified health workforce.
As of 2023, more than 100 million people across the United States live in a Health Professional Shortage Area (HPSA), as designated by the Health Resources and Services Administration. The demand for health workers is expected to continue rising faster than the supply and states are examining their role in bolstering and strengthening the health workforce.
As highlighted in NCSL’s new report, Leveraging Career Pathway Programs: State Strategies to Combat Health Care Workforce Shortages, creating career pathway programs is one strategy states are using to address or mitigate workforce shortages in the long term.
Career pathways are “a series of structured and connected education programs and support services that enable students, often while they are working, to advance over time to better jobs and higher levels of education and training.” These programs aim to create a talent pipeline of qualified individuals who are ready to fill needed health care jobs and are designed to prepare individuals for the next level of employment, certification or educational level. These programs can focus on a variety of professions, including those in particularly high demand and/or are in low supply in any given state.
State legislatures are considering several strategies to support career pathway programs in their states. These include but are not limited to:
- Creating programs through existing state offices or state education institutions
- Forging partnerships with key stakeholders to ensure pathway programs align well with workforce needs.
- Leveraging or pursuing federal funding to build career pathway programs.
- Establishing grant programs that allocate funding to new or existing recruitment and retention programs.
States have focused their efforts in three main areas: K-12 programs, community college programs and undergraduate programs. Program design is variable, providing many different options to states who wish to pursue this pathway.
Some states, like Florida, have focused on the creation of curriculum frameworks which allow career pathways to be easily incorporated into K-12 schools and increases the number of students who graduate with credentials that are immediately transferrable to the workplace. Other states, like Hawaii, have leveraged their community college systems to target high demand industries by providing skills training and credentials to local residents. Nebraska took another approach, allocating funding to local universities who recruit, educate and ensure graduate school enrollment for students committed to practicing health care in rural areas upon graduation.
Check out NCSL’s new report on career pathway programs, Leveraging Career Pathway Programs: State Strategies to Combat Health Care Workforce Shortages, to learn more about state legislative actions in this area. The report outlines how states are creating and leveraging these programs to create a sustainable pipeline of health workforce professionals for the future.
This resource is supported by the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of an award totaling $813,543 with 100% funded by HRSA/HHS. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement, by HRSA, HHS, or the U.S. Government.