As we emerge from the most significant public health challenge of the last century, the critical role of health systems and their caregivers has never been more apparent. While COVID-19 has become more of an endemic disease, we continue to process the important lessons learned regarding the needs and challenges of educating our future healthcare workforce.

The pandemic accelerated losses that healthcare organizations nationwide are still struggling to overcome. Compounding this challenge is the fact that provider shortages most negatively impact our most vulnerable and underserved populations, who already face healthcare equity challenges. To address these issues and the opportunities they present, Prime Healthcare Foundation, a not-for-profit with over $1 billion in assets, is working to serve communities through charitable and educational initiatives. The foundation is affiliated with Prime Healthcare, one of the nation’s largest health systems with 44 hospitals in 14 states. Its vision to address the critical shortage of physicians, reduce health disparities and meet the needs of the underserved led to the establishment of the California University of Science and Medicine. CUSM was founded in 2018 in one of the poorest regions of the country, San Bernardino County, California, with a mission to create a legacy through medical education, one that will serve impoverished communities in perpetuity.  

The university, which recently celebrated its inaugural class of M.D. graduates, can serve as a model for other health systems that want to contribute to medicine’s future through education. Healthcare is such a fundamental part of people’s lives and offers a diversity of jobs at multiple levels, but critical workforce shortages endure while demand for services continues to grow. Health systems are uniquely positioned to train the clinical leaders of tomorrow and meet our nation’s healthcare staffing needs. What are some of these priorities?

We need a large, well-trained workforce that reflects the diversity of the many communities that our healthcare system serves. The pandemic has highlighted the fact that although we are all in the same storm, we are not all in the same boat.  Each market, each community, each health system has its own unique needs and challenges.  What is appropriate in Southern California may not be helpful in central Michigan or rural Texas.

A workforce that is drawn from and reflects the characteristics of the communities it serves has been shown in studies to result in higher-quality, more cost-effective, and more culturally appropriate healthcare. A majority of CUSM’s students come from Southern California, are from historically underrepresented groups in medicine, and show a commitment to care for the underserved in their own communities. 

We need a large, well-trained workforce that will continue to learn and adapt across a four- to five-decade career. The pandemic highlighted the need for our healthcare workers to be innovative, adaptable and capable of continuously acquiring new skills and knowledge to address evolving challenges in science and medicine. They need to be learners from the day they start until the day they retire.

We need a large, well-trained workforce that is comfortable and facile with technology. Much of the last century in healthcare has been defined by the rapidly expanding role of technology.  Healthcare workers need to be not just tech “comfortable” but tech “savvy.” Those skills are no longer optional, and educational experiences need to reflect this core competency.

We need a large, well-trained workforce that can operate at both the system level and at the community level. Delivering critical healthcare interventions requires health systems that are high-functioning, integrated, adaptable and capable of sharing information quickly and efficiently. Healthcare professionals will need to feel comfortable working in system-based delivery models and will require leaders with the skills, knowledge, training and experience to lead those systems.  

We need a workforce dedicated to service and mission. Dramatic images from the past two years-plus of the pandemic have made it clear once again that a healthcare career is grounded in serving others. There has never been a time when healthcare has been more important. We’re surrounded by heroes who put their health and safety at risk every day. It has also been fulfilling to see our unified commitment to health equity and better access to care. At California University of Science and Medicine, every student understands the noble calling that is inherent in assuming a role in healthcare. Whether in the emergency department or a small rural doctor’s office, from holding a patient’s hand through a difficult diagnosis or reading a routine X-ray, every member of a healthcare team must be committed to service. 

Health systems have a profound opportunity. Training the next generation of providers can start there.

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