We have been hearing for decades that healthcare jobs are recession proof. As the thinking goes, healthcare is something that will be required for as long as human beings roam the earth. Thus, there will always be jobs available. But is that true? The coronavirus crisis provides the answer. And it might not be what people want to hear.
The New York Times reported that some 1.4 million healthcare jobs had been lost between March and early May 2020. It is clear that many of those jobs have come back along with elective medical procedures. It is also clear that coronavirus shutdowns do not constitute a recession. They are artificially induced and can be ended at any time.
But what if shutdowns led to a recession? Would the healthcare sector be affected? And if so, how badly? That is the issue industry leaders are grappling with right now. They are weighing the possibility that, while healthcare might be recession resistant, it is not necessarily recession proof.
What Drives Our Industry
Healthcare is a multi-billion-dollar industry in this country. And yet, very few people understand what drives the industry here. It is not primary care, pediatrics, geriatrics, etc. No, the main driver is elective medicine. The vast majority of healthcare jobs in this country are somehow related to elective procedures and services.
By definition, elective procedures are not medically necessary for survival. They may be necessary for quality of life, but not as a matter of saving a life. And of course, there are elective procedures that have nothing to do with either saving a life or improving the quality thereof.
Proof in Coronavirus
The coronavirus pandemic clearly proved how much of the industry is driven by elective medicine. Elective procedures were shut down in March 2020 so that hospitals could dedicate all their resources to treating sick coronavirus patients. Guess what? Hospitals were not overwhelmed. Furthermore, they did not need the services of millions of workers. Thus, furloughs and layoffs hit the industry.
Who would have believed, prior to the start of the year, that doctors with years of experience would be looking for physician jobs on sites like Health Jobs Nationwide? But they were. Some still are.
This brings us back to the question of whether or not healthcare jobs are recession proof. If we have learned anything from the coronavirus crisis, it should be that they are not. Indeed, we are not out of the coronavirus woods yet. If the U.S. goes into another prolonged lockdown, a recession is sure to follow. We weathered one lockdown; we are not likely to fare so well with a second.
How many patients would still be able to afford elective procedures during a recession? How many hospitals and clinics would have the financial resources to bring back laid off healthcare workers at the end of a second lockdown?
Healthcare Is Still a Business
The long and short of it is that healthcare is still a business. As long as it remains a private-sector enterprise, it will be subject to economic downturns. Perhaps healthcare will remain more resistant to recession than other industries, but it will never be recession proof as long as it remains private.
Transforming healthcare into a public enterprise eliminates the recession issue, but it creates other problems as a result. So no, nationalized healthcare is not the solution. There is no solution to the recession issue, nor should there be one. Like any other industry, healthcare should be left to the forces of supply and demand. If that means it is not as recession proof as we thought, so be it.