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Career and Technical Education (CTE) | Health Science | iCEV | Health Science Certifications

What Is the Health Worker Gap?

July 2nd, 2024 | 17 min. read

Brad Hummel

Brad Hummel

Coming from a family of educators, Brad knows both the joys and challenges of teaching well. Through his own teaching background, he’s experienced both firsthand. As a writer for iCEV, Brad’s goal is to help teachers empower their students by listening to educators’ concerns and creating content that answers their most pressing questions about career and technical education.

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If you’re an educator in a career and technical education (CTE) program, you may have heard about a worldwide shortage of healthcare workers which is affecting patients in many countries, including the United States. 

But what exactly is this health worker gap? And how does a shortfall in healthcare workers affect you as a CTE teacher or administrator? 

In this article, you’ll discover more about the current healthcare worker gap in the United States. Specifically, we’ll cover: 

  • What Is the Healthcare Worker Gap? 
  • How Did the Health Worker Gap Come About? 
  • How Can We Close the Healthcare Worker Gap? 
  • How Can CTE Help?

Throughout this article, we’ll reference statistics and information in the new report Bridging the 10 Million Health Worker Gap: The Impact of CTE Educators, published jointly by iCEV and Catapult X. 

When you’ve finished reading, you should have a wider understanding of the difficulties facing health science career pathways today and how you can make a difference as a CTE educator. 

What Is the Healthcare Worker Gap? 

The health worker gap (or healthcare worker gap) is a global shortage of qualified medical professionals and industry workers that threatens to disrupt the quality and efficiency of care for patients throughout the United States and around the world. 

A worker gap means that the number of employees necessary to run hospitals, physicians’ offices, and other medical facilities far outpaces the demand for healthcare services. While it’s easy to think of the health worker gap as applying only to service providers, there is shortfall of workers in every area of the health science industry, from nurses to phlebotomists to billing and coding specialists. 

Not having enough professionals working in health science careers can have a detrimental impact on virtually everyone. Fewer workers in medical professions means that current employees may have to work longer hours and take on added duties. It increases the number of patients seen by a medical provider in a day and the number of people who visit a medical office or facility.  

All this weighs on the ability of the average person to schedule prompt appointments, lengthening the time it takes to receive necessary medical services, including procedures and surgeries. 

Since everyone requires healthcare throughout their lifetimes, it’s essential that there are enough qualified professionals to keep medical facilities running and ensure continuity of care. 

How Did the Health Worker Gap Come About? 

The emergence of the healthcare worker gap is a complex concept, and its development is ongoing. It is the result of multiple influences pressing on the health science career sector. 

The reasons for a shortfall in medical employees sometimes vary from region to region. For example, in some parts of the world, there are simply too few people with the education necessary to work in healthcare. 

There might not be enough colleges and universities around to prepare learners for jobs in these sectors, or those who graduate with qualifications may choose to take positions in a different location, leaving other areas with a lack of qualified employees. 

Sometimes this shortage is accompanied by other factors, such as limitations in medical technology or financial considerations that make it difficult for new healthcare workers to enter the industry. 

However, according to iCEV and Catapult’s health science report, the lack of healthcare workers in the United States is largely due to several primary influences: 

  • An elevated level of employee churn 
  • An elevated retirement rate 
  • Troubles with attracting talent 
  • A demand that outpaces the number of expected health science graduates 

Some of these challenges have arisen because of external pressures on the healthcare industry. For example, the retirement of individuals in the postwar “Baby Boomer” generation is ongoing and affects all industries, not just health science. 

A growing population that requires additional healthcare providers means the demand for new workers increases every year, making it harder for CTE programs to satisfy the demand for graduates. 

Meanwhile, other challenges threaten the health science industry from within. The stress of working in an understaffed industry leads to a high churn rate, with many talented professionals burning out and leaving healthcare entirely, never to return. The field of pharmacy alone experiences a 48 percent churn rate, the highest of the healthcare industry. 

Continual turnover affects the ability of health science to compete with other career pathways for talented new employees, with many potential workers being turned away by the prospect of working long hours on overwhelmed medical teams. 

This unique combination of challenges threatens the healthcare industry for the foreseeable future. The question remains: How can we work to close the healthcare gap? 

How Can We Close the Healthcare Worker Gap? 

Closing the worker gap is critical to ensure our health systems can provide proper care for everyone. We must act now to avoid falling even further behind as the demand for healthcare increases. 

While overcoming a 10 million worker deficit in the healthcare industry won’t happen overnight, a collaboration between government, industry, and education can work to encourage more talented individuals to consider health careers. 

Leaders in health science are already aware of the complex challenges facing their industry and have made it their goal to attract and retain qualified professionals by incentivizing working healthcare. 

Yet since working in health careers requires specialized training, closing this gap won’t be possible without collaborating with education providers to ensure there are plenty of workers to meet ongoing needs. 

How Can CTE Help? 

Career and technical education has an essential role to play in closing the health worker gap.  

Because health science is a specialized career cluster that requires trained professionals in every pathway, there is a continual need for new, qualified graduates of CTE programs who are prepared to work in medical professions ranging from CNA to EKG Technician. 

Middle School 

Whether you are a health science instructor or lead a CTE program, your work can make a difference in helping young people consider the benefits and opportunities of choosing a rewarding career in healthcare. 

You can start by getting students as young as middle school excited about learning health science concepts. Early exposure to the career pathway through age-appropriate lessons can help students realize the possibilities of working in healthcare, causing them to consider becoming a CTE concentrator or completer in health science once in high school. 

Consider using a Digital Literacy and Career Exploration curriculum with your middle school students in addition to introductory health science materials. This way, your learners will have a more complete perspective as they explore their options in this career cluster. 

High School 

For older students, it’s important that they experience the full range of health science opportunities available to them. The wide range of available careers increases the likelihood that more students will find a concentration they are passionate about and are eager to study in-depth. 

By offering classes that touch on all five health science career pathways, you’ll provide the breadth of opportunity learners need to be prepared regardless of their chosen area of specialization. To better equip your students, consider adopting a comprehensive CTE curriculum. A full health science curriculum facilitates broad exposure to concepts essential for working in today’s healthcare industry.  


As students near the end of their health science programs, encouraging them to pursue industry-based certifications is essential to placing them in professional opportunities. 

Industry certifications highlight qualified graduates by providing a rigorous testing process which validates their skills and expertise in numerous health science fields. Health science certifications are backed by organizations such as NHA, AMCA, and NOCTI and verify that earners are ready for work as healthcare professionals. 

Explicitly aligning your program to specific industry certifications ensures your students are prepared for these assessments and increases their likelihood of success. Through tracking certification performance, CTE programs can analyze which certifications are most likely to lead to successful careers and refine their health science pathway to meet these needs. 

Community Engagement 

A final way CTE programs can aid in closing the health worker gap is through consistent community engagement. When schools partner with local healthcare providers and educate families and community members about the value of health science education, they’re building relationships that result in additional opportunities for students and potential employers. 

Local engagement is critical for creating work-based learning (WBL) opportunities. When schools establish strong partnerships with local hospitals, doctor’s offices, and other medical facilities, they’ll open doors to a variety of learning experiences for their students, from workplace visits and internships to community-based learning opportunities. 

Ultimately, a high level of community engagement helps everyone understand our increasing healthcare demands and how working together as a community through partnerships and work-based learning can lead to a better tomorrow. 

Work to Close the Health Worker Gap in Your Community 

The shortfall of employees in the health science sector affects communities throughout the country. Thankfully, CTE teachers and administrators like you are uniquely equipped to help meet these ongoing demands and prepare future healthcare workers for successful careers! 

Since you’ve learned about the special role CTE programs play in educating the next generation of healthcare professionals, you’re now empowered to make a difference in their lives and those of people in your community. 

But you also have your own obligations as a CTE educator that go alongside growing a successful program. How can you meet your challenges as a teacher or administrator and help each learner succeed? 

Download iCEV’s complete health science report to discover how you can align your program to overcome obstacles facing teachers and administrators, all while preparing students for long and successful health careers: