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Health Workforce Research - The Priority for the Next 25 Years

Greetings from Coimbra, Portugal where I am attending the World Health Organization's (WHO) meeting of the Nursing and Midwifery Collaborating Centers. The purpose of the WHO-CC for Nursing and Midwifery is to his network works toward the maximization of the contribution of nursing and midwifery in order to advance Health for All in partnership with WHO and its Member States, member centres, NGOs, and others interested in promoting the health of populations. The network carries out advocacy and evidence based policy activities within the framework of WHA resolutions and the WHO programme of Work. An impressive amount of work, research, and capacity building is completed by the Nursing & Midwifery centers.

What's clear from this meeting is that the future of research in healthcare lies predominantly on the health workforce. We can develop lots of interventions, but if there are no health workers to implement them they will not matter nor be as effective as the randomized controlled trial proclaims them to be. If health care workers cannot get the supplies and medicines they need, they cannot be as effective in their roles and patient outcomes suffer. If management is poor, workers will leave their workplace or the professions all together.

WHO has made the healthcare workforce an essential part of achieving universal health care. In nursing, we have a major shortage of health services and workforce researchers. This kind of research looks at a variety of topics and is not all quantitative.  These can include but are not limited to:

  • Studying career trajectories and dynamics of healthcare professionals
  • Examining the link between the numbers and types (e.g. educational levels of staff) of healthcare professionals and patient outcomes (pick a disease or condition) in hospitals, primary care, home care, and long term care.
  • Developing organizational interventions to improve the quality of care provided and studying the impact on patient outcomes
  • Health workforce planning (national, regional, local)
  • Health labor market dynamics
  • Policy analyses of workforce policies
  • The impact of regulation, credentialing, and liscensure on the health workforce 

Health workforce research does require a PhD but there are a number of places around the world where you can study. If thinking about applying for a PhD to study health workforce, look for faculty members on the school's website that have a strong track record of scholarship in health services and workforce research. If we do not have more researchers in this field, the evidence-base and voices of nursing will not be able to effectively contribute to health policy that will help countries achieve universal health care.

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