The Future of the Behavioral Health Workforce

by Patricia O. Urquiaga | Nov 04, 2019 | behavioralhealth, behavioralhealthjobs, behavioralhealthrecruiter, behavioralhealthrecruitment, behavioralhealthstaffing
The Future of the Behavioral Health Workforce

What is the future of the behavioral health workforce?

How are behavioral health providers planning, practicing and preparing to tackle the 44 million American adults who’ve been diagnosed with a mental health condition?

This is a question that has been floating around the healthcare industry for years – making behavioral health recruitment and behavioral health staffing a big challenge. But before addressing this question – first let’s understand the behavioral health workforce, its shortage and challenges, and positive outlook ahead. We will then provide 5 tips to improve your organizations behavioral health recruiting and retention strategies.

The Behavioral Health Workforce

The behavioral health workforce provides assistance and treatment to people having a difficult time managing their family, work, or their personal lives due to mental illness or substance disorders. Their work settings include prevention programs, community-based programs, inpatient treatment programs, primary care, emergency rooms, criminal justice systems, K-12 and/or higher education institutions and includes:

  • Psychiatrists
  • Psychologists
  • Social workers
  • Advanced practice psychiatric nurses
  • Marriage and family therapists
  • Certified prevention specialists
  • Addiction counselors
  • Mental health/professional counselors
  • Psychiatric rehabilitation specialists
  • Psychiatric aides and technicians
  • Paraprofessionals in psychiatric rehabilitation and addiction recovery fields (e.g., case managers, homeless outreach specialists, or parent aides)
  • Peer support specialists
  • Recovery coaches

Shortage and Challenges

According to the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, it is predicted that by 2025 behavioral health providers will be short of 250,000 workers.

Today’s highest concentration of behavioral health providers are located in affluent urban and suburban areas. Rural and underserved areas are facing behavioral health shortages and challenges due to:

  • Low wages and benefits
  • Heavy caseloads
  • Getting less reimbursements
  • Practicing psychiatrists being over the age of 55 and retiring
  • The stigma of professionals recovering from addiction and working with people who are in recovery

A Positive Outlook Ahead

Due to our nation’s behavioral health crisis, organizations like medical schools, teaching hospitals and other institutions are starting to address the shortage by:

  • Redefining the social workers curriculum to better train for real life work issues
  • Adding a psychiatry clinical rotation to give medical students hands-on experience with mental health patients
  • Recruiting “future” psychiatrists – in fact, from 2010 to 2015 new psychiatry residents grew by 5.3%
  • Opening residency slots to increase the number of behavioral health providers
  • Providing mentoring at all levels (whether a medical student or an existing behavioral health provider)
  • Training providers in telepsychiatry and telemedicine to give them access to:
    • Work from home (to decrease burnout)
    • Various patient populations
    • Use of videoconferencing for patient evaluations, medication management and therapy

Behavioral Health Recruiting and Retention Strategies

Despite the challenges faced by the behavioral health workforce, we can see the opportunities and ways organizations are coming together to overcome this crisis. Here are 5 tips to improve your organizations behavioral health recruiting and retention strategies:

1. Involve “All” Employees – During your organizations strategic planning sessions, make sure to invite all of your employees (all levels). Your employees are your frontline – they can pinpoint your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. Additionally, they can help address key issues and brainstorm to come up with solutions to better your organization. If you are a large organization and can’t invite everyone, consider surveying employees to ask questions related to patient care, weaknesses, opportunities etc. Employees want to be involved in the process – so allowing them can help increase your retention rate.

2. Ongoing Open Discussions – The majority of organizations have annual reviews (tied to compensation) for their employees. This is where employees can relay their issues/concerns, see how they’re performing, evaluate growth opportunities etc. Instead of continuing this process, consider having ongoing open discussions with employees. Depending on their role, these can occur monthly or every other month. The goal of these open discussions is to recognize contributions, help develop/shape employees by providing/gathering feedback, understand career goals and develop an action plan to help them achieve their goals – all while increasing staff engagement and retention.

3. Leadership Development Programs – Establish a leadership development program in line with your organizations mission and values. Within this program, leaders can coach employees, teach them a combination of hard and soft skills, address challenges, teach them to take accountability, determine leadership styles, provide tips to increase productivity, etc. This can help your organization increase retention, but it can also help when recruiting. Leadership development programs are very much considered by potential candidates when looking for employment.

4. Host a “Virtual” Town Hall – Consider hosting a “virtual” town hall. This has become popular among various organizations as these sessions allow management to communicate updates/important changes, address employee questions, use real-time polling to gauge employee feelings on certain issues, and reinforce mission/values. Again, this can help your organization increase retention, but it can also help when recruiting because potential candidates want to make sure they work for an organization where their voices are heard.

5. Employee Recognition – Many organizations have recognition programs to recognize employee achievements at or outside of work. Consider developing this type of program or if your organization is limited, at least recognize employees during important times in their lives (i.e. birthdays, birth of a child, graduation, work anniversaries, work promotion, etc. These might seem like small recognitions, but your employees will feel appreciate and this can help increase retention.

For more on behavioral health recruitment and behavioral health staffing, connect with MASC Medical to see how we can help you!

MASC Medical is a leading, nationwide full-service healthcare staffing firm. Our expertise, resources, relationships, and proven strategies have allowed us to develop a proactive, and efficient approach that serves both Healthcare Providers and Healthcare Organizations. Recognized as one of the best physician recruiting firms in the country, we proudly tailor our healthcare staffing services to Physicians, Mid-Level Providers, Dentists, Allied Health, and Executives. Allow us to find the “right” candidate for your healthcare organization today. In fact, the search for the right candidate is risk and worry free – we’re paid on results!


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