Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Guest Commentary: Grappling with Health Care Workforce Needs in the 21st Century

Patrick Monaghan
Director of Communications
Jefferson School of Population Health

In their opening remarks to “Creating the Health Care Workforce for the 21st Century,” Thomas Jefferson University President Robert L. Barchi, MD, and University of Delaware President Patrick T. Harker, PhD, fittingly set the table for the day’s discussions.

Dr. Barchi spoke of the millions of newly insured that have been entering the country’s healthcare system with the passage of the Affordable Care Act, and the need to develop creative approaches to extend the health care workforce in the face of the ongoing shortage of primary care doctors.

Dr. Harker spoke of the relationship between Thomas Jefferson University (TJU) and the University of Delaware, and how the two institutions can “show the country how coordinated care can be provided.”

With that, the one-day conference, focused on addressing the challenges of workforce development under health reform, was off and running. In a day filled with poignant talks and thought-provoking panel discussions, a highlight was former Pennsylvania Governor Edward G. Rendell’s keynote speech.

In his typically honest, disarmingly straight-ahead style, the former Governor expressed his concern over the competitive edge America has lost in science and technology; the need for the education of America’s youth to once again take center stage, and a call to return to the “can do” attitude that once made America the world leader in innovation, discovery, and scientific breakthrough. He spoke of the importance of the healthcare industry to the Greater Philadelphia region, and how conferences such as this one underlie how Philadelphia can serve as the point for an era of drastically improved healthcare in terms of quality, safety, innovation, and job creation.

Susan Dentzer, editor-in-chief of Health Affairs, spoke on the benefits of cultivating collaborative and coordinated care and the great responsibility vested in academic medical centers, such as TJU, to train tomorrow’s medical professionals to work collaboratively as a team, and the importance of reducing waste and medical error to cut costs and improve medical outcomes.

Joanne Conroy, MD, chief health care officer of the Association of American Medical Colleges, addressed the need for transformational change in the education of health care professionals, calling for “the right mix of physicians and essential health care providers with the right skills and training, in the right places.”

In one of two exceptional panel discussions, George W. Bo-Linn, MD, chief program officer for the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation’s San Francisco Bay Area Program, underlined the importance of teamwork in healthcare, and how critical it is for health care professionals to engage their patients – or “persons,” as Dr. Bo-Linn prefers – in their own health care. “The current most widely unrecognized and largest workforce is patients and their families,” Dr. Bo-Linn declared.

The health care workforce for the 21st century will need to adapt to a health care system currently in reform, but the most basic tenet remains the same, surmised David B. Nash, MD, MBA, Dean of the Jefferson School of Population Health - “Patients, or persons, will remain at the center of all we do.”

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