Health Workforce Policy

Photo of laughing women with baby at UCSF community health fair.

Healthforce Center at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) has been awarded a five-year grant of $7 million from The California Endowment to launch a specialized area of focus on health workforce policy in California starting in 2023.

While workforce policy has long been an underpinning of Healthforce Center’s research, this considerable funding will provide an extraordinary opportunity to approach this work in a more cohesive and broadly strategic way. We will be more ambitious in our goal to catalyze systemic and policy changes that address structural racism and racial equity, with the overarching aim of enhancing the health care workforce and overall health outcomes for communities.

Health Workforce Shortages Are Getting Worse

California is facing significant shortages, as well as a stark lack of diversity, among health care workers. Widespread burnout has resulted in a dramatic number of workers leaving the field and further exacerbating shortages. Decades of effort to pursue a culturally responsive, diverse, and inclusive health workforce that reflects the demographics of California have been slow to yield progress and have infrequently included community voices, and most have not confronted the racism that is embedded in the policies, structures, and processes that yield our health care workforce.

We know that health care outcomes improve when patients’ health care providers share race, ethnicity, language, and/or cultural experiences. However, individuals from underrepresented communities entering the health care workforce can face barriers such as the cost of training, systemic discrimination, and bias. These challenges must be addressed by policy changes that result in expansion of the workforce and better access to care for communities.

A Community-driven Research and Policy Agenda

In close collaboration with communities across California, we will develop and advance a policy agenda that prioritizes system changes to generate better economic opportunity, and, ultimately, better health for communities of color, statewide public health, and individual health equity.

Such policies will advance these aspects of the health care workforce:

  • Diversity: backgrounds, life experiences, language skills, and identities
  • Capacity: skills development, maximizing scope, and reduced supervision
  • Flexibility: overlapping scopes and flexing as settings and teams need

Our vision and design for this body of workforce policy is guided by values of social justice to move from structures of exclusion and disparity to a future state marked by structures of inclusion and equity.

Why Healthforce Center Will Lead This Work

Healthforce Center's three decades in workforce and health equity issues, research expertise, community engagement, and commitment to equity uniquely position us to perform this work. This opportunity aligns with our long-standing focus on health workforce research and policy in California that is well-documented with examples that span the entire health workforce.

Our own journey reflects the larger picture as demonstrated in the projects that we pursue: building pipelines of diverse health leaders, strengthening the cultural competency of clinicians, evaluating the ability of new care models to reduce health disparities in underserved communities, and increasing understanding of how new provider roles can advance health equity.

This work will be led by principal investigator and director Sunita Mutha, and co-deputy directors Rebecca Hargreaves and Elizabeth Mertz at Healthforce Center. Taylor B. Rogers is the inaugural postdoctoral scholar, a research seat funded annually through an advancement pathway for this grant.

The Phillip R. Lee Institute for Health Policy Studies brings additional expertise, resources, and campus-wide presence to this effort.

Pathfinder Council

A Pathfinder Council will guide the direction, priorities, and processes of this work and serve as connectors to the many perspectives and communities across California. Pathfinder Council members will play an essential role in co-designing how we will elevate, prioritize, and respond to health workforce challenges and opportunities. We are grateful to be joined by these inaugural Pathfinder Council members (pictured from left to right alphabetically): 

We plan to thoughtfully add members over time who will expand our capacity to advance a health workforce research and policy agenda rooted in social justice and equity.

Get Involved!

This work will rely on a community driven and collaborative approach to transforming the health workforce. We will collaborate with community voices, government agencies, and other organizations to align statewide policy efforts with regional health workforce priorities. Launching the Pathfinder Council ensures community input drives research priorities and policy products support community advocacy.

To hear about updates on our progress and ways to get involved, subscribe to our mailing list. We invite your comments and questions about this project to [email protected].