Challenges in clinical workforce retention

Date:  24 May 2022
Workforce Challenges

Challenges in clinical workforce retention

On 5 May 2022, we hosted a virtual meeting for members of the Association Leaders Circle to discuss the challenges around human resources for healthcare service provision. This virtual meeting provided an opportunity to share, and learn from, the experiences and strategies of hospital associations from around the world on this important topic.


The event was chaired by Richard J. Pollack, President and CEO of the American Hospital Association (AHA).

Michelle Hood, Executive Vice President/Chief Operating Officer, AHA, and Robyn Begley, Senior Vice President/Chief Nursing Officer, AHA, presented the AHA’s Workforce Strategy.

Ronald Werft, President and CEO of Cottage Health in California shared insights as Chair of the AHA’s Task Force on Workforce.

Global context

The health workforce is included in various indicators of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals because the workforce plays a critical role in achieving universal health coverage. Health systems are dependent on the availability, accessibility, and quality of healthcare workers to reach the highest standards of health provision. This includes recruitment, management, and specialized training, which is essential for any health system to ensure healthy lives and promote wellbeing for everyone at all ages.

The healthcare workforce is the cornerstone of the health system in every country and plays a critical role in achieving universal health coverage. Health systems can only function with health workers; however, the global chronic shortage and maldistribution of healthcare workers was exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Other, pre-existing factors have also been worsened by the pandemic, such as the level of violence against the workforce and the toll on mental health that caregivers experience.

Countries at all levels of socioeconomic development report workforce recruitment and retention, and performance, as a common issue. The World Health Organization’s Global Strategy on human resources for health: Workforce 2030 includes the statistic that, around the world, we will need 18 million more health workers by 2030. For hospital and health service association leaders, the challenge is to act now with strategies and policies which protect and support the current workforce as well as serving as an effective recruitment tool.


In the USA, research suggests that as many as 75% of the current health workforce are considering leaving their positions in the next few years. The AHA’s strategy to tackle the workforce shortage involves working in partnership with academia (innovating to train the workforce of the future) and governmental agencies (providing the necessary incentives and infrastructure). The resilience capacity of the existing workforce will be enhanced through modernizing skills development facilities and continuing professional education training, as well as reform to regulatory barriers.

The AHA has created a national task force, responsible for developing resources and techniques for both recruitment and retention to ensure a stable workforce into the future. Their roadmap include short-, medium-, and long-term actions such as:

  • gathering data at local and regional level to adapt responses in different areas;
  • providing concise, accessible guidance to existing resources with examples of innovation and good practice in a range of settings;
  • piloting new ways of caring for caregivers, promoting wellbeing and retention;
  • developing leadership development programmes;
  • reskilling the current workforce for redeployment in different areas;
  • making best use of new technologies;
  • trialling new models of recruitment, care delivery, and creative staffing;
  • focusing on preventative and rehabilitative care to reduce admission rates;
  • establishing new partnerships and collaborations, locally and more widely.

Leaders of associations in other countries shared similar concerns and challenges around workforce. Additional ideas shared by participants included:

  • looking at the creative approaches in alternative industries, such as education or engineering, who are facing similar workforce shortages as national demographics change the profile of the available workforce;
  • recruiting non-clinical staff from sectors with complementary, transferable skills, particularly in times of crisis (e.g., airline staff working in hospital administration during COVID-19);
  • working in partnership to set up mentoring schemes for future members of the workforce, building relationships between local education providers and health services to offer students part-time employment before graduation;
  • establishing public networks and forums to particularly address small and medium-sized hospitals which are facing a dual challenge of workforce shortages and post-pandemic financial difficulties.

Workforce will be a key theme at the World Hospital Congress in Dubai in November 2022, where “the people agenda” is one of three sub-themes forming the programme.

The AHA’s podcast on its workforce task force is available now:


Written by:

Katherine Bennett

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