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AMN predicts health worker shortage

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Because of the aging baby boomers, the United States is poised to have unprecedented shortages of health care workers over the next decade, the head of San Diego’s AMN Healthcare Services (NYSE: AMN) told UBS Healthcare Conference attendees in New York this week.

“We expect to have shortages that this country has never seen before by the year 2020 or 2025,” said Susan Salka, AMN’s president and chief executive.

Although there has already been much talk about how baby boomers will put more demand on services as they move into their 60s and 70s, there has been less focus on how that demographic bubble will affect the medical workforce, said Salka, whose company provides temporary staffing and other employment services for the health care industry.

“We're going to be hitting a point in the next few years where you'll have potentially more nurses leaving the hospital setting because they're hitting the age of 52 or older,” she said. “That's usually when they move on to a less rigorous environment. And there just aren't enough new nurses that are coming into the profession to take their places.”

Reflecting the growing demand for medical services, health care employment has grown steadily through the past decade, even during the depths of the Great Recession.

In San Diego County, the health care industry has added nearly 20,000 jobs since the summer of 2007, when the downturn in overall employment began. The state Employment Development Department forecasts that home health aides and registered nurses will rank among the fastest-growing jobs in the county through at least 2020.

But Salka predicted that rising demand will outstrip any influx of new workers, especially since the new generation of doctors entering the workforce these days are less likely to work the grueling schedules that their elders once endured, since they are putting more focus on balancing their professional and private lives.

“So you're going to have this confluence of a rising demand for clinicians right when you have a tightening supply, or at least a lessening in the growth rate of the new nurses and physicians coming into practice,” she said.

Salka said the shifting demographics could be good for her company, since hospitals and clinics may turn to temporary or part-time workers to help with the load.

In its first-quarter results released earlier this month, AMN reported its revenue rose 11 percent over the past year -- including a 15 percent rise in nurse and allied health care staffing -- while its net income jumped from $4.3 million in the first quarter of 2012 to $7.6 million during the same period of 2013.

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