Scrutinizing Shortages in the Healthcare Setting
Last September’s campus blood drive was interrupted halfway through due to a shortage of workers.
Jacob Chavez, junior business and pre-medicine major, has worked as a phlebotomist (a person who takes blood samples) in the Walla Walla area and believes the blood drive was halted by a strike. Chavez was in contact with the American Red Cross when it happened. He was informed that they had a lack of workers available on the Wednesday the drive was canceled, but was told that they would “pull workers from other areas” to continue the drive on Thursday.  During this time, Chavez said, it was implied, although not directly stated by the Red Cross, that this shortage was due to a strike. 
There are many possible motives for a phlebotomist strike. Chavez described that general shortages in the phlebotomy field have created more challenging working conditions with many workers being called in for more hours than they’d like.  Alongside this, a phlebotomist’s salary averages $33,803 a year in the U.S., which is a little over $16 an hour on average. 
A phlebotomist’s primary task involves drawing blood, but the nature of the job means they can only do so much at once. Chavez went into detail on the topic, explaining that drawing a person’s blood takes approximately 45 minutes. This requires the phlebotomist doing the blood draw to check on them throughout that time period. Because of this, as Chavez explained, there is a limit to how many people a phlebotomist can safely work on at once. It is critical that there are enough phlebotomists working in order to draw sufficient blood. 
The U.S. is currently facing a blood shortage as well, driven largely in part by the current shortage of phlebotomists. According to Chavez, many areas (particularly college towns) have ample amounts of willing donors, but these donors may be turned away because there aren’t enough workers to handle them all. 
The repercussions of this can be severe. Blood donations are used for surgeries and in treating sickness and injury, so a blood shortage can mean lives lost in hospitals around the country. Worker shortages mean this issue is exacerbated, which is all the worse for the people who need blood.
Phlebotomists are by no means the only healthcare workers in short supply. Doctors, nurses, and other healthcare professionals are in high demand without adequate numbers of them in the workforce.
According to a report from the Association of American Medical Colleges, the U.S. will face a shortage of between 54,100 and 139,000 physicians by 2033.  Additionally, beyond the current shortage of nurses, it is predicted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics that the number of nurses needed will increase by over 200,000 from 2019 to 2029—and with an estimated 175,900 new openings each year (from retirements and workforce exits), the need for new nurses is only growing. 
This raises questions. Why is the U.S. gripped by such a deficiency? Shouldn’t we have enough new graduates to fix the issue? Unfortunately, it appears there are underlying issues at play.
The country has an aging population, which means more healthcare workers are needed to perform specialty care. Consider too that many doctors and nurses are themselves aging, with two out of five physicians reaching the age of 65 within the next decade. 
There are also concerns of burnout, particularly with COVID-19. Even before the pandemic, at 31.5%, nearly one third of all nurses leaving their jobs did so because of burnout. The added stress of the pandemic is likely to increase this.  Maintaining healthy working conditions may prove to be especially important in the future.
When the country doesn’t have enough healthcare workers, everyone loses. Medical professionals become overworked, wait times increase, and the quality of care in many places may decline.
- Interview with Jacob Chavez, 10/19/2021.
- Q: What is the average phlebotomy salary by state in 2021? https://bit.ly/3vLGmfy
- Boyle, Patrick. AAMC. (26 June 2020). U.S. physician shortage growing. https://www.aamc.org/news-insights/us-physician-shortage-growing
- American Association of Colleges of Nursing: The voice of academic nursing. News & Information. https://www.aacnnursing.org/news-information/fact-sheets/nursing-shortage
- Megha K. S., MD. (2021, February 4) Prevalence of and factors associated with nurse burnout in the U.S. JAMA Network Open, JAMA Network. https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamanetworkopen/fullarticle/2775923