Here’s how to overcome California’s health care workforce crisis

By Carmela Castellano-Garcia and Carmela Coyle, Special to CALmatters

America’s leaders in all fields are at a crossroads, facing immense challenges with no easy answers.

How can we address the looming climate change crisis?

How do we ensure solvency for Social Security, so our growing senior population can live with dignity?

How do we rebuild our crumbling transportation infrastructure, without breaking the bank?

For health care, which truly is a fundamental need for all of us, one of our great challenges is how to make sure we have enough trained and qualified women and men to care for patients to address the increasing demand for health care services.

Nationally, the numbers don’t look good:

  • By 2025, there will be a shortage of 20,000 primary care physicians.
  • By 2030, that number could grow to more than 100,000.

Here in California, things aren’t much better. In many places, the crisis is already upon us:

  • 7 million Californians live in Health Professional Shortage Areas, which is a federal designation for counties experiencing shortfalls of primary care, dental care, or mental health providers.
  • Our state will face a shortfall of 4,100 primary care physicians, nurse practitioners, and physician assistants during the next decade, according to a 2019 report from the California Future Health Workforce Commission.

This is nothing short of a public health crisis in the making, and it will burden families, our health care system, and the state’s economy.

It’s our challenge to rise to the task of ensuring there are enough clinicians to care for the health needs of future generations. Together, we share a commitment to comprehensive workforce planning with everyone–health care leaders, educators, legislators, and others–doing their part.

We’re grateful for the efforts of the workforce commission, which has provided a roadmap to overcome this problem. Specifically, there are 27 recommendations, and several of them are within reach should we exercise the political and public will to execute them.

  • First, we must invest in accelerated training for primary care doctors, nurse practitioners, and behavioral health providers.
  • Second, we must expand college programs to bring more low-income and underrepresented professionals into the workforce.
  • Third, we must increase medical school enrollment and expand primary care and psychiatric residencies.
  • Fourth, we must maximize the roles of community health workers, home care workers, nurse practitioners,  peer providers and promotores.

Combined, these investments will ensure greater access to care in underserved areas from clinicians who are trained to treat complex diseases and the social and personal needs of their patients. Importantly, we can provide stability in California’s health care workforce for decades to come.

Like many of the challenges facing our state, our health care workforce shortages pose a fundamental threat to a California whose people have the opportunity to live healthy, thriving lives that strengthen all of us. We must act before the crisis strikes.

Carmela Castellano-Garcia is president and chief executive officer of the California Primary Care Association, [email protected]. Carmela Coyle is president and chief executive officer of the California Hospital Association, [email protected]. They wrote this commentary for CALmatters.

Latest in Commentary


California must not fall for marketing scheme that falsely claims to protect tropical forests


Housing action just half-a-loaf


California still No. 1 in poverty

photo of the 2017 Thomas Fire


Seeking to help people at greatest risk from climate change

A male Chinook salmon returns from the Pacific to spawn. Photo via California Sea Grant/Flickr


Newsom and legislators have a choice: side with the environment or with Trump