Addressing Healthcare Workforce Shortages Through Micro-Credentialing

By this point, it’s clear to hospitals and healthcare organizations that the pandemic revealed a need to rethink licensing and credentialing for caregivers in the healthcare sector. The result has been a worrying number of health care workers leaving their professions since 2020. There are many ways to stimulate entry into the profession. One way is to facilitate onboarding through credentialing requirements. Employing the use of skills-based trainings and micro-credentialing is one way to address this aspect of the shortage.

Addressing credentialing is specifically relevant given the areas where the losses have been most critical which is at the LPN and lower technician levels. For many of these roles, micro-credentials or a skills-based training program that doesn’t involve earning a degree can help fill in critical employee gaps.

Why is micro-credentialing a solution?
While traditional credentialing required students entering the health care profession to have a wider range of knowledge on areas that weren’t directly related to the jobs they would be performing, micro-credentials are precise and function-specific. In this sense, micro-credentialing solves many of the pressing issues of the moment: it allows health care workers to learn what they need to begin filling in vacancies quickly and efficiently.

How micro-credentialing helped during the pandemic
A great example of how micro-credentialing works was when The American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN) offered a COVID-19 Pulmonary and Ventilator Care micro-credential for health care workers to provide care for Covid-19 patients. AACN Chief Clinical Officer Connie Barden stated that: “Since the onset of COVID-19, nurses have looked to AACN for best practice recommendations, clinical guidelines, staffing models and emotional support. This micro-credential responds to the need to validate the knowledge required to care for patients with COVID-19. As the coronavirus continues to have a significant impact, hospitals need well-educated staff they can trust to provide safe care to critically ill patients with COVID-19. This micro-credential will help to substantiate that knowledge base.” The credential could be earned online, and the 38-question exam fee was $30 for AACN members and $45 for non-members.

In this example, there was a clear need for a specific skill to provide care for patients with Covid. By expanding this model to build specific skills for lower-level health care workers, hospitals and health care centers empower workers by offering meaningful credentials that can be earned quickly, affordably, and conveniently. Additionally, by reducing barriers of cost and time, more people can gain the skills they need to join the health care workforce and fill in critical gaps that an overwhelming number of institutions are facing.

Limited capacity of nursing schools
Even if students wanted to enroll in a full-time nursing school program, they would find their options were limited. The pandemic curbed nursing school enrollments, leading instructors to seek other employment. Today, many nursing schools do not have enough instructors for their nursing programs. Additionally, the pay for being a nursing school instructor is on average 28 lower than the pay for nursing, so the wage gap qualified instructors experience is a serious deterrent to taking on that commitment.

High cost of a nursing degree
Nursing degrees are expensive. The cost of a 4-year nursing program averages $10,000/year at a public school and $35,000/year at a private school. Two-year degrees are similarly priced. Without other training and credentialing options available to them, many people interested in working in health care are put off by the price tag of degrees that essentially over qualify them for the roles they intend to fill.

Rethinking credentialing
Some institutions are dropping their degree requirements and adopting skills-based trainings to fill in critical gaps. As an example, Intermountain Healthcare in Salt Lake City has openings for 14 positions that previously would have required a 4-year college degree. While some of these roles require more in-depth knowledge and therefore longer coursework, for many of them, workers can acquire the necessary competency through short training programs and/or micro-credentials that can be earned in a few weeks or months.

Micro-credentialing for the future
With the shelf life of current skill sets being at about five years or less, micro-credentialing allows health care workers to upskill to keep pace with rapidly changing technologies and practices. Likewise, since
micro-credentials can be gotten quickly and cheaply, they help to create a culture of continuous learning so that organizations can maintain qualified workers among their ranks instead of perpetually struggling to fill shortages of workers with relevant skills.

Regulatory compliance agencies and health care organizations can curb the loss of workers by accepting skills-based trainings and micro-credentials in lieu of college-earned degrees. The reduced cost and efficiency of these credentials accomplish what we need right now: more health care workers filling critical caregiver roles.

The SHRM Blog does not accept solicitation for guest posts.

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