Healthcare worker shortage leads to this novel training method

Healthcare worker shortage leads to this novel training method


How Vanderbilt University Medical Center provides people with opportunities to better themselves by increasing their earning power and becoming role models for their children while benefiting the community.

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  • Peggy Valentine, Ed.D., Vanderbilt University Medical Center, serves as vice president for allied health education.

Headlines about high college tuition and dire shortages of health care workers are almost inevitable. There is good news on both fronts, however, and it’s growing in Nashville.

For two and a half years, I have been building collaborations and partnerships with Nashville State Community College, Tennessee State University, Fortis College, community organizations UpRise Nashville and Grace Place Ministry, and area high schools to develop innovative training programs that respond to the opportunities of the modern economy and challenges.

We’re building a lifeline for people who want to go back to school, change careers or get into a career.

Allied health professionals keep the health care system running, but there is a nationwide shortage of these professionals. It is estimated that more than 85% of health facilities are facing shortages of these professionals, including therapists, laboratory technicians and imaging technicians.

We must design education programs with trainees at the center

When I joined Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC) in 2021, I looked through the job opening data. Amid the alarming vacancy rates, I see opportunities to strengthen the home and health care workforce. VUMC needs more than 60 surgical technicians, a number that, combined with the needs of other medical providers in Tennessee, easily exceeds the number of available personnel. This scenario plays out again and again in other allied health roles.

In his previous role as chair of the Department of Health Sciences, the shortage of health professionals was a primary concern, particularly in the allied health field. People are interested in medical careers, but life changes and daily expenses (such as car repairs or child care) take precedence over tuition or training materials. The training programs we introduce are learner-focused and designed to overcome some of these barriers.

The VUMC model allows existing employees to retain their salaries and have their tuition paid while enrolled in high-need allied health plans. Local community residents who receive these projects can also enjoy tuition subsidies and living allowances. It’s critical that we work with colleagues across the city’s higher education sector and continue to focus on the barriers people encounter in real life.

When programs are designed with future trainees in mind, the results are amazing. Since the first pilot, we’ve seen nearly 200 people join a growing number of basic allied health plans, and demand continues to grow.

Our results so far are a textbook example of a win-win for all parties involved.

This is just the beginning of a community-oriented approach

Neighbors from across the Greater Nashville area who participate in these programs gain valuable skills, livable wages and employment opportunities at major medical centers that otherwise would have seemed like a distant dream.

Families have benefited from a growing share of skilled workers in Nashville’s economy, feeling more stable and connected to their communities. By investing in its workforce, VUMC develops employees and fills positions with people with institutional commitment—which research shows has a real impact on patient care.

Mentees often tell me: “This program changed my life. I always wanted to start a career but didn’t have the money or opportunity. I’m so grateful.”

We provide opportunities for people to better themselves by increasing their earning power and become role models for their children while benefiting the community.

These lifelines came about because community-oriented, creative people decided to work together to try something new. I’m happy to say we’re just getting started.

Peggy Valentine, Ed.D., Vanderbilt University Medical Center, serves as vice president for allied health education. Dr. Valentine will be participating in a live chat with other partners on the DNA Discoveries in Action podcast on January 31st to discuss their experiences and why this is important. Join the conversation here at 10:30 AM Central Time.

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