The Future of Sick-Care Work

Suppose you have a 10-year-old named Sarah and, between texting at the dinner table, you start talking about her future and her idea that she wants to be a neurosurgeon? Suppose healthcare looks like this by the time she gets to medical school?

Or maybe the conversation in about whether to go to college at all.

A recent MIT report on “Work of the Future” addresses what might be the most critical question of the digital economy: As emerging technologies raise aggregate economic output and the wealth of nations, will they also enable people to attain greater economic security and improved health and longevity?

Creating a 21st Century healthcare workforce will take some heavy lifting to fill the gaps that are being created by the formal and informal forces driving change. Those forces include:

  1. The recognition that population health is created or destroyed by socioeconomic determinants like nutrition, education, transportation, and housing
  2. Information and communications technologies are becoming more complicated and pervasive, creating, in some sense, a data industry that happens to take care of patients.
  3. The ratio of sick care to healthcare is gradually shifting
  4. K-20 education integration is sorely lacking. There is an international crisis in finding teachers willing to work long hours for little pay and recognition, graduate school education and medical school education is badly in need of reform, and higher education’s business model is crumbling under its own weight.
  5. Technological change is happening so quickly, some question the ability of humans to cope and adapt to it.
  6. High tech is creating the need for ever more high touch.
  7. Most of the jobs of the future have yet to be created.
  8. Robotics, AI, VR/AR, and other advances will create more jobs than they displace.
  9. Man has to learn how to work with machines, fixing them not fighting them.
  10. Entrepreneurship–i.e., the pursuit of opportunity with scarce resources with the goal of creating user-defined value through the deployment of innovation–needs to be part of the learning goals of every student and program at every educational level. We need entrepreneurial medical schools.
  11. The jobs of the future need to be market responsive.
  12. Teaching technologies should respect different learning styles and be more mass customized.
  13. AI and the 4th industrial revolution will eliminate the need for people to do certain jobs and will fundamentally change how others are directly and indirectly impacted.
  14. The job descriptions of sick-care workers are different from those of healthcare workers and require different skills. Here are five strategies for developing a next-gen workforce.
  15. Like all industries, sick care is becoming more and more of a data-driven industry that happens to take care of patients. Computer and data scientists and doctors will increasing have to learn how to speak and understand each other’s language. Data literacy in the new Mandarin.

The above threats and opportunities demand a bold response that should include:

  1. A realistic look at who should go to college and graduate school and who should not and how to train those who don’t. We don’t need more indentured scientists stuck in post-doc purgatory.
  2. The truth about STEM jobs vs. those jobs that require more technical training in a given technology. Teach STEAMpathIE.
  3. Emphasis on lifelong learning.
  4. Required education and training in critical thinking, communications, and other “soft skills” that employers are seeking.
  5. Collaboration between employers, nonprofit community agencies, government agencies, and the educational establishment.
  6. Rethinking funding models and student debt. What if private equity ran medical schools?
  7. Entrepreneurship education and training integration.
  8. Reforming medical board certification and monitoring continuing competency compliance.
  9. Alternative career development pathways for existing lower-level sick-care workers to advance to higher-level healthcare jobs.
  10. Interdisciplinary and cross-disciplinary training in usability (behavioral sciences), feasibility (technical disciplines), and sustainability (innovation and entrepreneurship).
  11. How to deconstruct the myth of the meritocracy and overcome the barriers to opportunity for those not “born into the club”
  12. Build a high-touch medical workforce.
  13. Adapting to the changing nature of work, the gig economy and longer and longer work lives and the structure and amounts of benefits, social security and retirement

The MIT task force recommends four broad areas where concerted public and private action are essential to shaping the future of work:

  • Rebalance fiscal policies away from subsidizing investment in physical capital and toward catalyzing investment in human capital
  • Restore the role of workers as stakeholders, alongside owners and stockholders, in corporate decision-making
  • Foster technological and organizational innovation to complement workers
  • Reinvigorate America’s leadership position in technology and innovation

According to Deloitte, here are four non-clinical areas where the future of work has the most potential:

  • Finance and accounting
  • Human resources
  • Revenue cycle management
  • Customer/patient services

Here are some ways to educate your kids to win the 4th industrial revolution.

“There’s three job opportunities coming in the future,” says Avi Goldfarb, coauthor of Prediction Machines: The Simple Economics of Artificial IntelligenceHe divides them up into people who build artificial intelligence, people who tell the machines what to do and determine what to do with their output, and, finally, celebrities. This last category comprises actors, sports players, artists, writers, and other such luminaries surrounding the entertainment industry.

“The most valuable combinations of skills are going to be people who both have good training in computer science, who know how the machines work, but also understand the needs of society and the organization, and so have an understanding of humanities and social sciences,” he says. “That combination, already in the market, is where the biggest opportunities are.”

Also, if you are a sick-care worker employer, you will not only have to find workers that are scarce during times of very low unemployment, but those that have the knowledge, skills, abilities and competencies to add value from day 1.

Here are the pillars of the future of workforce change and here are some ways to teach them.

I’m sure Sarah would make a great neurosurgeon. Unfortunately, if she lives in the wrong ZIP code, or, if Sarah attends a community college, or a medical school outside of the US, she may not get that chance.

Arlen Meyers, MD, MBA, is the President and CEO of the Society of Physician Entrepreneurs and Co-Editor of Digital Health Entrepreneurship. You can find him on Twitter @ArlenMD.

Arlen Meyers

Arlen Meyers, MD, MBA is an emeritus professor at the University of Colorado School of Medicine ,teaches bioentrepreneurship and is Chief Medical Officer for Bridge Health and Cliexa. He is the President and CEO of the Society of Physician Entrepreneurs at and author of the Life Science Innovation Roadmap.




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