The latest K12 shortage conundrum: healthcare professionals

Pandemic or no pandemic, maintaining sufficient staff in this area continues to be a major challenge, according to a new survey of 65,000 K12 administrators.

The pandemic impacted nearly every aspect of the traditional K12 public school environment. From student mental health to academics, its toll was far greater than administrators could have anticipated. But one thing remains certain: filling staff vacancies is more difficult than ever.

We know this to be true, especially in regard to finding qualified teachers who still want to be in the profession. But COVID-19 revealed to many the importance of maintaining a proper health staff. How do public schools fare in this area? Unfortunately, the data reveals a grim reality.

According to a new survey of 65,000 K12 public school administrators administered by AMN Healthcare, a healthcare talent solutions company, districts continue to see insufficient levels of healthcare professionals in their schools.

As the data suggests, more than half (52%) of administrators say their schools are currently understaffed in this area. Furthermore, more than two-thirds say this shortage has had a “major impact” on student well-being.

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Diving deeper into the research, administrators say certain types of healthcare staff are more difficult to come by than others. For instance, 27% of public schools are currently without a school psychologist, a registered nurse (21%) and a speech-language pathologist (17%).

“Many public schools are struggling to find the healthcare professionals they need at a time when the fallout from COVID-19 and rising mental health challenges are driving demand for school-based caregivers,” President of AMN Healthcare’s Schools Division David Schmiesing said in a statement. “Increasingly, public schools are on the front lines of healthcare, providing students with physical and mental care services they may otherwise be unable to access.”

Finding alternatives

The research comes at a time when student mental health is of utmost importance for education leaders. Last month, U.S. General Surgeon Vivek Murthy testified before a Senate Health, Labor and Pensions Panel expressing his fears surrounding youth mental health, which he described as “the defining public health issue of our time.”

“The bottom line is our kids can’t afford to wait longer for us to address the youth mental health crisis,” he said. “We have to expand our efforts to ensure every child has access to high quality, affordable, culturally competent mental health care.”

So how are administrators meeting this need despite a shortage of healthcare professionals? The survey suggests two primary alternative solutions.

Contract Professionals

The vast majority (73%) of public schools report hiring contract professionals in order to fill their vacancies. These are employees who typically work under temporary, nine-month contracts, according to the survey. This alternative has also proven necessary to ensure adequate staffing levels are met to meet the growing number of students requiring Individualized Education Programs (IEPs).

Teletherapy/Raising Compensation

Another solution that’s helped to keep administrators’ schools afloat is the utilization of teletherapy, a remote option for students to communicate with their therapist.

According to the data, nearly one-third (29%) of schools are leveraging teletherapy. Additionally, 54% of these schools are using it to provide speech-language pathology.

Finally, 34% of schools are choosing to raise their healthcare professionals’ salaries to increase recruitment and retention. Thirty one-percent are working on finding the funds to make this a reality.

Micah Ward
Micah Ward
Micah Ward is a District Administration staff writer. He recently earned his master’s degree in Journalism at the University of Alabama. He spent his time during graduate school working on his master’s thesis. He’s also a self-taught guitarist who loves playing folk-style music.

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