With the uncertainty around when new COVID-19 cases will consistently decrease, the need for healthcare professionals has soared to near dizzying heights. Health systems and hospitals already struggling with a healthcare talent shortage have faced an urgent need for respiratory specialists, nurses, emergency physicians, and other staff.

As the need for healthcare professionals persists, today’s health science students will need to take the place of burned-out and retiring nurses, doctors, assistants, and others who are moving out of the profession. However, given the stress and health risks present in clinical settings during the pandemic, many students may have concerns about participating in on-site clinical rotation and residency programs. 

By taking steps to offer students a smooth path to clinical training, you can attract more students to your allied health program and help young professionals to start careers in the healthcare field.

The Growing Need for Healthcare Professionals

The COVID-19 pandemic put a spotlight on the incredible value of healthcare professionals and the sacrifices so many made to help patients suffering from the illness. 

Retiring Healthcare Professionals

The pandemic also impacted healthcare professionals’ concerns for their own safety, and it led some to retire or pursue another profession. In a 2020 Physicians Foundation survey, 4 percent of doctors said they would not be returning to their practice due to COVID-19 health risks, and another 19 percent said at least one member of their staff would not be returning to the practice for the same reason.

In addition to concerns about COVID-19, there remains a scarce supply of available healthcare professionals to keep up with rising demand, and it is on track to remain a challenge in coming years. According to Mercer research, by the year 2025, there will be a nationwide shortage of 446,000 home health aides, 95,000 nursing assistants, and 98,700 medical and clinical laboratory technicians.

Limited Clinical Rotation and Residency Opportunities

The pandemic has further impacted the healthcare talent shortage by limiting students’ ability to participate in clinical rotation and residency programs. Initially, the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) recommended all clinical rotation programs be paused due to COVID-19. The organization later updated this guidance to leave open the option of on-site rotations, acknowledging “medical students are the essential, emerging physician workforce.” Despite this course change, many students have faced delays or have had to complete their clinical site training remotely. Others may remain hesitant to jump into on-site training.

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How to Make Your Allied Health Program Appealing to Students

An increasing number of students will soon return to on-site learning, and they need support to get prepared for the clinical learning environment. Given the demand for healthcare professionals and their valuable role in overcoming the last remnants of COVID-19, universities and medical schools must do everything necessary to support students pursuing health science professions. 

Here are four key steps you can take to attract students to your allied health program:

1. Clearly communicate program requirements, benefits, and opportunities.

In an age where students can get information about your program from online research and their peers, it’s essential to provide well-rounded communication about all aspects of your program, including clinical site requirements, opportunities for learning, and the value of pursuing a career in the health sciences.

For example, you can offer resources to educate students about the health and safety precautions the clinical sites are making to keep patients, students, and employees safe. Reputable healthcare organizations maintain high standards for health and safety by setting health and immunization requirements which students must satisfy before beginning their rotation or residency program.

Using web and mobile tools is another way to communicate timely and relevant information about your program. In addition to keeping your program website mobile-friendly and up-to-date with relevant resources, you can maintain a positive reputation and communicate with students via the following methods:

  • Regular notifications detailing the deadlines, forms, and requirements students need to meet ahead of clinical rotations
  • Virtual information sessions
  • Campus postings

2. Make it easy for virtual learning students to stay engaged.

Though many states have relaxed their interstate travel restrictions, some students are still learning remotely. Some campuses continue to limit the number of students living on campus, and some students are voluntarily learning from afar. Therefore, you’ll need to make it easy for them to access information about your program, ask questions, and get personalized assistance from any location.

A great way to support virtual students is by providing an efficient process for them to submit the health and immunization information required by clinical sites. You can facilitate this process by offering:

  • HIPAA-compliant messaging
  • Automated reminders about submission deadlines
  • Support from trained healthcare professionals who can answer student immunization and other health-related questions

3. Use best-in-class technology to manage your health and immunization tracking program.

To keep students fully engaged, you need a mechanism to make it easy for them to fulfill health and immunization requirements without being distracted from their busy workload. Using end-to-end immunization tracking technology, you can simplify the collection and verification of student health and immunization data and have a reliable process for sharing the information with your clinical site partners.

Immunization compliance technology is an accessible and customizable solution, offering students the following benefits:

  • Information and resources to help them understand clinical site requirements
  • Status updates detailing which forms and health records have been submitted and which are still outstanding
  • Correspondence with health professionals regarding required retesting or boosters specific to their health situation

Available immunization tracking technology also integrates with student background screening and drug testing software. With the help of integrated software, students can access information about in-network drug testing facilities near their current location and complete clinical site drug screening requirements. Students can also use the technology to access and share their drug testing and background check results with authorized parties.

4. Partner with a trusted immunization management and student screening provider.

As with other important student programs, having access to the right resources and partners allows you to run an efficient allied health program and identify opportunities for improvement. 

By working with a provider who can help you manage your student health and immunization program, you unlock access to the following products and services:

  • Health and immunization tracking technology
  • Support for compliant workflows
  • Guidance from qualified healthcare professionals trained to interpret medical records and testing results
  • Periodic reviews of your program and recommendations for improvement
  • Additional services to address your other student screening or compliance needs, such as background checks and drug testing

Prepare Your Students for Clinical Site Training

Even before the pandemic, the need for healthcare professionals outweighed the supply. Now, though health science students remain in high demand, there are still COVID-19-related obstacles impacting their ability to participate in clinical site rotation and residency programs. To attract students to your program and keep them engaged in the pursuit of a healthcare career, you can provide students with the tools, support, and technology to meet clinical site requirements and complete all necessary health testing and immunizations. 

Driving student compliance with clinical site requirements can be challenging, considering the demand for students’ time and attention, the need to protect student health information, and the sheer amount of documents and other forms students need to submit. However, by implementing an efficient process and working with a trusted immunization compliance partner, you can support your students and keep your commitments with clinical site partners. 

For more tips, read our guide Improving Immunization Compliance: A Guide for Your Clinical Programs.

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