At Jordan Search Consultants, we’ve seen a major increase in hospice physician searches in recent years. This trend comes as no surprise considering only one in 10 people who need hospice and palliative care receives it, according to the World Health Organization and Worldwide Palliative Care Alliance. Studies also find between 8,000 and 10,000 physician specialists are needed to meet the hospice demands nationwide, but only about 4,500 are specializing in the field.
Despite the fact that the number of hospital-based programs nearly tripled between 2000 and 2010, and most large hospitals now have palliative care teams, according to the Center to Advance Palliative Care, Americans living in certain geographic regions (for example, where small hospitals are the norm) have limited access to this comfort-centered approach to serious illness.
The shortage will become even more serious as baby boomers reach end of life. By 2029, the number of Americans 65 or older will ascend to more than 71 million, up from about 41 million in 2011 (a 73 percent increase). More so than generations prior, baby boomers are living longer but are in worse health, resulting in a compounding need for hospice care.
Addressing the Shortage
In addition to the aging population, the shortage also likely stems from a limited interest in the field due to the nature of the work. “I do think it’s a calling to do this kind of work; you have to have a lot of compassion, communication skills, and excellent skills to keep [patients] comfortable,” said Dr. Jennifer Davis, medical director for Hospice of Davidson County in North Carolina.
Finding a solution to this dire need will require raising awareness and developing palliative-care skills among professionals, and medical and nursing students, according to Harvard Magazine. Recommended strategies include:
- Training leaders through programs like Harvard Medical School’s Center for Palliative Care, co-founded by Block and J. Andrew Billings about 15 years ago to expand palliative-care education nationally and internationally.
- Ensuring that everyclinician who sees seriously ill patients learns basic palliative-care skills, such as effective doctor-patient communication and pain management, while referring the more complex cases to specialists.
- Reminding physicians that palliative care aims to ease symptoms and suffering throughout a serious illness, not just at life’s end, and complements the care patients are already receiving. It’s not about dashing hopes.
While there is certainly reason for concern, it is important to remember that hospice and palliative care are still relatively new medical specialties; the fields weren’t officially recognized by the American Board of Medical Specialties until 2006. If your organization is in need of palliative care specialists, remain hopeful. Jordan Search Consultants’ customized recruitment solutions, extensive physician database, and passive and active search strategies ensure access to top candidates across the nation. Contact us to start your search.