Indiana nurse, doctor shortage worries health care providers

(file photo courtesy Pixabay)
Adrianna Pitrelli

INDIANAPOLIS (Statehouse File) — Indiana will need nearly 900 more doctors in the next 13 years, but getting them to come here - and stay here - feels nearly impossible for some healthcare professionals.

“I have positions open daily and I could fill those positions today and they’d be reopened by the end of the week,” said Vince McCowan of Magnolia Health Systems. “I’m running job fairs, hosting job fairs, I’m raising wages, and it isn’t working.”

Ten health care providers from different backgrounds came to the Statehouse Thursday to urge lawmakers to look into the shortage.

At Magnolia Health Systems, an Indiana-based nursing home, McCowan has a need for a variety of nurses. However, because of the demanding workload, he said people do not want to become nurses. Instead, it’s easier to go to school for a shorter amount of time, work better hours and still make about the same amount of money in a different career path.

“It’s emotionally and physically draining,” he told the Interim Study Committee on Public Health, Behavior Health and Human Services. “I try to give new people training where they shadow nurses but then those nurses don’t ever get days off so they don’t get adequate training.”

McCowan said nurses need to work less hours a day and be paid better. Many nurses, he said, work three days made up of 12 hour shifts — which is not only demanding, but exhausting. The average salary for a registered nurse in Indiana is $57,520, which is about $10,000 less than the national average.

“It’s a field we need but a field not a lot of people want to get into because they know up front how harsh it is,” he said. “And then we do get people and there is a physical burnout because of the demand.”

Rhonda Sharp of the Indiana State Medical Association testified before the Interim Study Committee on Public Health, Behavior Health and Human Services on Thursday, Sept. 28, 2017. ( Photo/Adrianna Pitrelli)

There isn’t just a shortage of nurses in Indiana, but a shortage of doctors, too.

“Provider shortages are big in Indiana, but they are not unique to Indiana,” said Rhonda Sharp, of the Indiana State Medical Association. “It’s a growing problem in the nation and could have a drastic effect if it’s not fixed.”

By 2030, Indiana will have a need for 817 more primary care physicians, according to a study conducted by Tripp Umbach, a consulting firm in Pittsburgh. But fewer Hoosiers are pursuing a career as a physician, Sharp said.

The first class of doctors graduated from Marian College in May, but of the 133 graduates, only 40 percent of them will stay in Indiana for their continued training — which Sharp sees as an issue.

“If we don’t keep them here, they aren’t going to come back here,” Sharp said. “We need to do more to encourage medical students to come to Indiana.”

She, and others who are passionate about encouraging more students to enter the medical field, said a state loan repayment program would allow more young people to enter the workforce. The average amount of debt for a medical student is $183,000.

“If we create a better environment for students who have medical school debt, it strengthens the medical professionals’ workforce,” Sharp said. “Let’s create an environment that has more people wanting to come, stay and practice in Indiana.”

The committee plans to discuss what can be done to help the doctor and nurse shortage before its next meeting in October.

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