Writer: Ryan Gandolfo
3 min read March 2023 — Middle Tennessee’s regional economy has developed into a powerhouse thanks in part to the strong performances of the education and healthcare sectors.
Rounding out the final discussion at the Invest: Nashville 2022-2023 Launch Conference, leaders across both key sectors spoke to the strengths of the Nashville market as higher education and healthcare face challenges in the current climate. The final panel, titled, “A Complete Ecosystem: How Healthcare & Higher Ed drive economic development across Nashville and provide a unique opportunity for regional growth,” was moderated by Jenny Sauls, director for the School of Nursing at Middle Tennessee State University, and featured panelists Chris Stirling, CEO and COO of The Surgical Clinic; Belmont University President Dr. Greg Jones; Dr. Joseph Webb, CEO of Nashville General Hospital; and Dr. Shanna Jackson, president of Nashville State Community College.
With more than 900 healthcare companies located in Music City and the surrounding region, the healthcare cluster employs more than 167,000 local workers, according to the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce. When speaking to the strengths of the industry, Dr. Webb pointed out the unprecedented growth that has taken place. “The music industry was what you thought of when you thought of Nashville. The healthcare industry is somewhere five to six times the size of the music industry. I see it as a symbiotic relationship between the two — the educational system feeds the healthcare system with well-trained individuals and the healthcare system feeds the educational system with opportunities and jobs and that will continue to grow,” he said.
The discussion shifted toward addressing the skilled labor shortage within the healthcare industry. “Nashville has a long history in education and healthcare and as it continues to evolve we need more healthcare professionals — nurses, medical assistants and physicians,” Stirling pointed out. According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, the country will face a shortage of upwards of 124,000 physicians by 2034 — including 48,000 primary care physicians.
Incoming facilities like the new Thomas F. Frist Jr. College of Medicine at Belmont University should play a helpful role in developing the talent pipeline. “We’re starting a new College of Medicine and pending accreditation will begin new medical education in the summer of 2024 — building on our nursing and health sciences programs as well as our College of Pharmacy. With all of those workforce dynamics, we need the collaboration that exists across the board,” said Dr. Jones. “Shanna and I have been talking about how to partner in deeper ways to address those workforce issues. If we don’t do this in a way that’s focused on the future, we are going to find ourselves regressing and having an impact on not just educational institutions but on healthcare and places like Nashville General Hospital.”
Dr. Jackson echoed Jones’ sentiment, adding that, “Employers need employees today, not two years from now or four years from now. At Nashville State, we had a realignment, and put our workforce division under our academic affairs. Everything we do at Nashville State is workforce development,” said Jackson. “There’s a lot of innovation and a lot of collaboration all across higher education and our partners to redesign the system. If we’re really candid, it hasn’t worked that well for students or for employers for a while.”
As the panel wrapped up, Dr. Webb directed the conversation toward underserved communities in Middle Tennessee. “We saw a very disproportionate impact on marginalized populations — people of color — and it exacerbated what already exists. We know that there are health inequities and there is an undesirable outcome. One of the things we are doing at Nashville General is focusing on that high risk population. It is a way of controlling the cost and keeping individuals healthy. We educate those with chronic conditions like diabetes, hypertension and congestive heart failure.”
Dr. Webb added, “The science shows that anywhere from 6% to 7% of your population will usually drive 60% to 70% of your costs. If you can get that population under control by being proactive and reaching out, the best healthcare you are ever going to get is the healthcare you administer to yourself.”
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