The Higher Ed Podcast Series: COVID-19’s Impact on Healthcare and Admissions

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For our latest Higher Ed podcast, Engine COO Kamaar Dejarnette sat down with Robert Keiser, Executive Director of Southeastern Colleges and Southeastern Institute, to discuss how COVID-19 has affected the 2020 school year. With six campuses under his direction, Keiser has had to make a lot of big, quick decisions because of the pandemic. Not only was he able to make the right ones to keep the 2020 school year as safe and productive as possible, but it’s also been a relatively successful year for his colleges. From the struggles that students face to his colleges’ marketing budget and the future of their programs, Keiser gives listeners a unique, insider perspective on the way that COVID-19 has affected higher education.

One of most notable effects of the pandemic has been an increased demand for frontline healthcare professionals, which was the case even before COVID-19 arrived. But an already high demand paired with the desperation of the pandemic alongside exhaustive conditions raises an important question: will enough people be up to the task? To further understand this question and how COVID-19 has and will continue to play a role in healthcare-related admissions, we’ve followed up with some research to better understand this situation.

The Past 

Since COVID-19 jolted America’s healthcare systems, the longstanding issues of our overstretched system have become crystal clear. These issues include restrictive government regulations (which have been lifted as necessary to respond to the pandemic) as well as high levels of burnout and staff shortages. Unsurprisingly, the market demand for healthcare was reflective of this need. Before the pandemic, the Bureau of Labor Statistics projected the industry  to grow more than any other occupational group, and admissions in university healthcare programs were also up.

The Present

What was already an established and growing demand has gained even more momentum since the COVID-19 pandemic created a direct and desperate need for frontline healthcare professionals. The Harvard Business Review reports that many workers stepped outside of their specializations to respond, and colleges offered some students’ early graduation and immediate job placements to fulfill the need. Yet alongside this demand came increased unemployment in the healthcare industry This mostly came from the cancellelation of elective procedures to make room for COVID-19 patients, and the job rate has since begun to increase. The roles of America’s frontline workers need to be filled although they currently present more challenges than usual, and those being called on must endure a plethora of physical and emotionally exhausting factors. Kaiser highlighted a few: “these people are putting their lives on the line every day, working in COVID wards, working in hospitals in general, they have families at home, they have loved ones, and they’re not seeing them for days, working crazy amounts of hours around the around the clock so that we can all live a somewhat normal life so that America and the rest of the world, frankly, can emerge from this crisis.”

There are plenty of other issues that healthcare professionals currently face. The US Department of Health and Human Services found that hospitals are hurting from overwhelmed capacities, a lack of sufficient staff, personal protection equipment, tests and supplies, and decreased revenue. While this pandemic presents extraordinary circumstances that don’t necessarily represent the future of healthcare, it does show how much we depend on our healthcare professionals, how hard they work to keep this country healthy, and how underprepared our system has left them for widespread emergencies.

With all of this in mind, it can be hard to imagine who would want to opt into such strenuous circumstances. And with the outrageous demand for healthcare professionals that was ramping up even before the pandemic, will there be enough people who do?

The Future

Robert Keiser gives us hope that the future will be promising: “I can say with a personal anecdote, we’ve experienced a lot of success, Southeastern College [and] Southeastern Institute has many allied health programs, we are growing this year, we’re having actually a very good year.” The success of Southeastern Colleges’ allied health program is promising considering the pandemic’s varying effect on students’ college enrollment plans. Other colleges have been experiencing similar circumstances- although total enrollment is down, healthcare education programs have remained steady despite the pandemic. “Many of our students are attracted to the allied health field because they have a calling,” Kaiser says, “they want to support the frontline responders.”

“There’s been a lot of branding, like allied health heroes, that’s not just words, that is the truth…what it has done is the individuals who want to make a difference in the world who really have that calling, you know, they may not be the police officers now, they may not be the firefighters. Now, they may not be in those other industries where you absolutely can make a positive difference that helps society, but they’re saying I want to be in allied health field, because that’s where the need is. That’s the calling.”

Conclusion

The bravery and sacrifice that healthcare professionals all over the world have demonstrated is truly inspiring, and greatly appreciated. This pandemic has presented many unanswered questions, but one thing that’s been clear is the need for healthcare professionals and the ways in which they support us.

To learn more about Robert Keiser’s opinion on healthcare degrees, COVID-19’s impact on higher education, and reopening colleges during a pandemic, check out this week’s episode of the Higher Ed Podcast. And stay tuned to our weekly episodes where we chat with professionals from all over the country to keep up to date on the world of higher ed.

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