Hire younger healthcare workers — lives might depend on it

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Emily Mongan
Emily Mongan

Imagine you're in the hospital, and faced with a choice: a younger doctor, not that long out of medical school, or an older one, with more experience.

If you're an older patient, it might seem natural to pick the older doctor. They're closer to you in age, and might have a better idea of how you're feeling. They also have more experience and skills gathered over the years.

But research published last week in BMJ found that choice may be the wrong one for many hospitalized seniors.

Researchers with Harvard's T.H. Chan School of Public Health found slight differences in 30-day mortality rate for hospitalized Medicare beneficiaries when treated by doctors in different age groups. For patients treated by doctors under 40 years old, the 30-day mortality rate clocked in at 10.8%. That rate increased to 11.1% for patients treated by a doctor between 40 and 49 years old, and ticked up slightly to 11.3% for those cared for by doctors between 50 and 59 years old.

The highest mortality rate found in the study was 12.1%, for beneficiaries treated by a doctor older than 60.

While the results may seem backwards at first glance, the researchers told HealthDay that the “team was not surprised by the findings.” After all, the skills older doctors accumulate over the years may become outdated as time goes on, along with their generally lesser understanding or use of technology.

While the research team stressed that their findings were small, and that patients shouldn't demand the youngest doctor on the hospital's payroll, there's still a positive note in the study that can translate from the hospital setting to long-term care.

The industry is facing a hiring crisis, and more emphasis is being placed on younger workers joining the ranks. That emphasis is well-placed since workers between 18 and 35 years old are expected to make up half of the long-term care workforce within five years.

There may be a lot of pessimism swirling around when it comes to younger healthcare workers. After all, they're the ones to blame for the majority of the social media abuse stories that pop up in the headlines. But set those fears aside for a moment, and focus on the positive.

We already have research showing these younger, less-experienced nursing home workers have greater interest in and are more adept at learning new technology. Now with the Harvard study, we have some more evidence that younger workers with up-to-date skills fresh in their minds may bring benefits for patients.

The wave of young professionals entering your workforce doesn't mean a shift to a staff full of bad attitudes and Snapchat violations waiting to happen. If the Harvard study — and the additional research that I'm sure will follow — is to be believed, younger healthcare workers are bringing a lot to the table. And the savvy provider would be wise to tap into that demographic sooner than later.

Follow Emily Mongan @emmongan

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Daily Editors' Notes

McKnight's Daily Editors' Notes features commentary on the latest in long-term care news and issues. Entries are written by Editorial Director John O'Connor, Editor James M. Berklan, Senior Editor Elizabeth Newman and Staff Writer Emily Mongan.

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