How Will Covid Vaccine Mandates Impact the Healthcare Workforce?
Recent survey of more than 1,000 physicians and clinicians provides insight, predictions regarding potential effects and unintended consequences of vaccine mandates
More than one-third of physicians and clinicians disagree with Covid vaccine mandates, including the Federal government’s Covid vaccine policy for employers, according to a recent survey conducted by Adaptive Medical Partners (AMP), a national healthcare recruiting firm based in Irving, Texas.
The Federal vaccine mandate announced by President Biden in September of 2021 requires vaccination or regular Covid testing for all workers employed by companies with 100 or more employees. This Federal mandate was announced after some U.S. health systems had already implemented their own vaccine mandates, many of which did not allow for a testing option as it is likely administratively and financially prohibitive for many employers to reasonably implement.
How are vaccine mandates (private and Federal) impacting the healthcare workforce?
In October, AMP surveyed a random sample of more than 1,000 physicians and clinicians from their network to obtain insight, experience, and predictions for the future of the healthcare workforce in light of vaccine mandates.
“As healthcare staffing consultants, we continually monitor trends throughout the industry’s employment market nationwide, to anticipate potential impact and shifts in the workforce,” said David Fontenot, co-founder and president of AMP. “We reached out to thousands of physicians to obtain their thoughts and opinions about the Federal vaccine mandate to facilitate our own understanding of its potential effects on the healthcare workforce, and also to provide physicians and clinicians with an outlet to share their thoughts and voice their opinions on an important topic openly and anonymously.”
The survey, conducted in October of 2021, was not intended to assess physicians’ opinions about vaccines, as much as it was designed to measure physicians’ insights about the impact of vaccine mandates, particularly the Federal employee policy requiring Covid vaccines, and how physicians feel this may impact their careers, employee morale, and turnover among their colleagues.
About the Survey Respondents
Among the 1,049 total survey respondents, 72% are physicians (MDs or DOs), and 12% are advanced practice clinicians (NPs, PAs, or CRNAs). When asked if their employer is covered by the Federal mandate (e.g. they work for an organization of 100+ employees) 53% of total respondents said they are covered by the Federal vaccine policy for employers with more than 100 employees, and 28% said they are not covered by the Federal policy. Eleven percent said they are employed by practices that are not covered by the Federal vaccine policy, but that their employer had already enforced a vaccine mandate independently of the Federal government’s policy. (The remaining respondents were unsure if their employer has a vaccine mandate.) Clinicians participated from all 50 states and included a variety of age ranges and medical specialties.
Regarding their personal vaccination status, 79% of respondents shared that they are vaccinated “by choice, or voluntarily,” and 2.79% said they are vaccinated due to a mandate. Almost 8 percent (7.79%) of respondents said they are not vaccinated, nor do they plan to be vaccinated even if mandated.
Overall Opinion of the Federal Vaccine Mandate – Do you agree or disagree with the Federal government mandating Covid vaccines for employees?
- 66% of physicians and clinicians surveyed said they agree with the Federal vaccine mandate to some extent, most of whom indicated that they “strongly” agree with the vaccine mandate.
- 28% of physicians and clinicians surveyed “strongly disagree” with the Federal vaccine mandate, plus another four percent of participants who “somewhat disagree”.
- Only 8% of respondents were neutral or had no opinion on the topic.
Impact on Your Career Plans or Career Status, if Any:
- More than three-fourths of respondents (77%) believe that the Federal vaccine mandate will NOT impact their career plans in any way.
- However, nearly 7% said they want to find a new job where the mandate doesn’t apply (e.g. a smaller employer that doesn’t require employees to get the Covid vaccine), 2% said they plan to quit practicing medicine, and 3% said they may try to retire sooner than expected.
- Additionally, three percent of those surveyed replied “other,” and shared a variety of statements ranging from “I received a vaccine I didn’t want to get, so that I wouldn’t be fired,” to comments such as “I am thinking of leaving medicine because the mandate has created a toxic work environment.”
Impact of Federal Vaccine Mandate on Employee Morale
Respondents were asked their opinion about how they think the Federal vaccine mandate will impact employee morale where they work currently.
- 43% of respondents feel that the Federal vaccine mandates will have a positive or significantly positive impact on employee morale among their colleagues.
- Nearly 12% feel that the vaccine mandate will have no impact on employee morale either way.
- 35% of clinicians surveyed said that they think vaccine mandates will have a negative impact on employee morale.
Impact of Federal Vaccine Mandate on Employee Turnover
- 36% of respondents feel that the Federal vaccine mandate will not impact employee turnover
- 9% feel that it will decrease employee turnover
- 44% said they think the Federal vaccine mandate will increase staff turnover where they work
Fontenot and the leadership team of recruiting executives at AMP found several takeaways to be particularly interesting.
“While physicians and clinicians are clearly largely in favor of vaccines in general, including the Covid vaccinations in most cases it seems, there are many clinicians who remain anti-mandate despite being pro-vaccine. Many indicated a preference for there to be some allowances for their individual medical needs, and those of their patients who are facing mandates, rather than requiring any medication or medical treatment across the board,” Fontenot said. Additionally, “the mandates are adding yet another stressful challenge to an already overworked, understaffed healthcare labor force, which is concerning.”
The strong opinions of the topic and lack of neutrality was also interesting. The questionnaire allowed for individual, free-form comments, and more than 60% of survey respondents took the time to write in additional thoughts. The comments shared varied widely, but several themes emerged among the nearly 700 comments:
- Many respondents expressed concern about the Federal mandate’s lack of regard for natural immunity in those who’d already contracted Covid and didn’t wish to receive a vaccine they feel is unnecessary.
- Many anti-mandate comments referenced the fact that the vaccines are very new and only one has been FDA approved. Therefore “it’s a medical mistake to mandate a vaccine for which clinical trials aren’t completed until 2023.”
- Opinions and emotions are highly charged on both sides of the issue. Many comments (for or against the mandate) were very strongly worded and/or included expletives.
While it may still be too soon to determine the full impact of mandates on a large scale, some medical systems are already seeing percentages of their workforce resign or get fired as a direct result of the vaccine mandates. One media outlet has tracked more than 30 health systems to date that have lost employees due to vaccine mandates, which is likely only a partial account of the direct impact thus far and depends upon the transparency of various systems’ reporting.
The resulting percentages of turnover vary across the systems impacted, and most staff losses are reportedly under 2-4% of total staff. However, any volume of staff turnover may have significant short- and long-term effects for healthcare employers, remaining staff, and for patients too. The total impact of the turnover on the nation’s healthcare system is yet to be determined and is currently playing out in real time.
An overwhelming theme that emerged from the AMP poll indicates that a vast majority of healthcare workers believe in the importance of the Covid vaccines and have been vaccinated themselves, while still feeling that sweeping requirements and mandates are not the best solution moving forward.
“Although getting vaccinated does protect our employees and patients, I do believe that it is a personal choice and should be left up to each individual,” stated one pediatric subspecialist MD from Florida.
“I’m vaccinated myself but do not agree with mandates,” stated a DO from New Hampshire, who added that a more effective solution would be “to educate people about the importance of [the Covid] vaccine instead of [issuing] mandates which will have negative consequences on multiple levels.”
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