Faculty shortage, demand for programs proves biggest challenge for allied health professions

In the latest in a series on health care workforce issues, Elizabeth J. Protas, Ph.D., vice president and dean of the School of Health Professions at The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, discussed the allied health professions during the UT System Board of Regents meeting Wednesday morning.

The health professions, which encompass more than 80 disciplines that provide direct care or essential services to patients and other care providers, constitute 60 percent of the health workforce in Texas. Respiratory care, medical sonography, social work, public health and physical therapy are among the disciplines.

In her report to the Board, “Status of Health Professions Education in Texas,” Protas emphasized that the biggest challenge is an inability to accommodate the enormous demand for student programs due to a shortage of faculty in all of the disciplines.

“The demand in the workforce continues to grow, and we never seem to be closing the gap between that demand and producing high-quality professionals,” she said. However, strides have been made through the growth of distance education, multiple degree programs and dual enrollment, virtual reality, simulation and other technology.

Other challenges include:

  • Instructional space limitations
  • Limited facility/clinical sites
  • Funding for high-cost programs: faculty, equipment and technology
  • Accreditation
  • Changing educational expectations: Graduates need to hit the ground running; increase in educational requirements; and professional doctoral programs

Future opportunities for allied health professionals will be found in alternative care models that will expand the role of these professionals to help cope with an aging population that will require an increased need for chronic care. The Association of American Medical Colleges anticipates a 25 percent decrease in the need for primary care doctors by 2025, resulting from 150,000 more advanced practice nurses and physicians assistants across the nation.

Protas’ report is the third in a series on health care workforce issues that the UT System Office of Health Affairs will review over the coming year. Previous updates have been presented on the nursing and dental professions.