The Future of Health Care: Developing Our Workforce


Ninth-grader Ian Richardson,
participating in Camp Scrubs at
Banner Ironwood Medical Center,
says the experience opened his 
eyes to nursing as a potential
future career.

Philanthropic investment is helping Banner meet the new challenges of health care

High quality, accessible, affordable health care is a vital component of a thriving community. However, today’s health care workforce—both in the United States and across the globe—is facing an array of challenges while health care systems are under increasing pressure. Shifting demographics, changes in care delivery, clinician burnout, high labor costs, and staffing shortages pose serious threats to the ability of health care systems, like Banner Health, to provide the care our communities need. The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated these issues and brought the critical need for health care workforce development and retention into sharper focus.

As Arizona’s largest private employer and largest nonprofit health care system, Banner Health takes seriously our responsibility to our professional workforce. Our doctors, nurses, technicians, and front-line staff work diligently, with dedication and compassion, to keep our communities healthy. In return, Banner does everything possible to care for and support them.

Like health systems across the country, Banner Health is facing critical staffing shortages that could jeopardize access to care in the communities we serve. According to the American Hospital Association, the U.S. will face a shortage of up to 124,000 physicians by 2033. From nurses changing occupations or exiting the labor force, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects the need for 1.1 million new registered nurses nationwide by 2030. Within the next five years, the U.S. faces a projected shortage of more than 3.2 million entry-level health care workers such as medical assistants, home health aides, and nursing assistants, according to a Mercer report.

Because a talented, engaged, and diverse workforce is critical to delivering exceptional patient care, Banner Health has made it a priority to support clinical professionals—professionally, physically, mentally, and emotionally. By offering opportunities for ongoing education and training, professional development, and career growth, plus programs and services to support employees’ physical and mental well-being, Banner strives to retain and grow our valued workforce and attract new talent to serve in critically important roles.

Philanthropic investment from donors and community partners has been critical to the success of these initiatives, as these activities fall outside the traditional model of care delivery and reimbursement.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Banner recognized the importance of team member wellness, particularly in light of a nationwide projected nursing shortage. In 2018, Banner implemented My Well-Being, a comprehensive program providing multi-modality wellness tools and resources for all team members, free of charge. This program expanded in 2020 to meet demands during the pandemic. Nearly 40,000 Banner Health professionals have benefited from counseling services, and 6,887 have engaged in individual appointments with a mental health professional, with one in five referred to more meaningful forms of care. More than 200 Banner leaders have become certified in Mental Health First Aid in partnership with the National Council on Mental Wellbeing, leading an internal campaign to reduce stigma around mental health in medicine and foster a culture of caring. Some 12,500 staff have watched over 83,000 on-demand videos on well-being and mental health.

In addition, Banner identified physician burnout as a looming threat to health care that must be uniquely addressed. In 2019, Banner Health implemented a program called Cultivating Happiness in Medicine (CHIM) aimed at reducing burnout, building resiliency in physicians and advanced practice providers, and allowing them to bring their best selves to work. The physician-led CHIM strategy provides specific opportunities for Banner’s providers to be their healthiest, best selves by accessing research-driven resources that have already reduced burnout, as demonstrated through objective surveys and feedback.

Building the Talent Pipeline

To build a pipeline of people to join—and stay—in the health care workforce, Banner’s Career Pathways program helps current employees build their careers. Team members in entry-level roles are given specific steps, tools, and financial support to complete their education and move into vitally important bedside roles that directly affect patient care: Certified Nursing Assistant, Certified Medical Assistant, or Certified Sterile Processing Technician. The program was funded with a $1.2 million grant from Maricopa County, and recently received a boost with a $150,000 grant from the Phoenix Industrial Development Authority. Program partners include Brookline College, Pima Medical Institute, and Maricopa Community Colleges.

“People are at the center of all we do and by investing in our team members’ future, Banner will continue to be a great place to work.” said Julie Ann Alvarado-Dubek, Banner Health EVP and Chief HR Officer. “Our Career Pathways program provides a meaningful journey where our team members can achieve their aspirations while optimizing our workforce.” 

Building the pipeline of professionals considering health care careers starts even earlier. Banner Ironwood Medical Center’s Camp Scrubs is a week-long, hands-on, immersive experience for high school students to gain first-hand knowledge of a hospital setting as they explore potential careers in health care.

Participants say that before their camp experience, they thought of health care careers as being only for doctors or nurses, but afterward, they understood the opportunities available in many areas of hospital operations. After attending Camp Scrubs, 9th grader Ian Richardson says he found the program not only fulfilling, but said it also heavily influenced him to choose nursing as a possible career choice. “It’s definitely changed my perspective on health care and what I want to do in health care,” Richardson said. “I mentioned the nursing thing to my mom and she said, ‘Yea! That’s my kid,’ because she wanted to do nursing too.”

In Tucson, Banner Health is advancing health care education through partnerships with Kino College, Pima JTED (Joint Technical Education District), Pima Community College, and the University of Arizona, which created Arizona’s first statewide academic health system. Students complete hands-on clinical rotations at Banner’s Tucson facilities, while scholarships support students with financial need.

Supporting Nurses

The global nursing shortage pre-dates the COVID-19 pandemic but has been felt more acutely in the past three years as intense pandemic conditions left many nurses in search of new roles and careers. Simultaneously, the pandemic shined a light on the critically important role that nurses play in patient care, particularly in times of high inpatient volumes and acuity. Nurses who have remained in the field say they want training and education, financial support, and good working conditions.

Donors to the Banner Health Foundation have funded several nursing scholarships to help Banner nurses continue their education and gain advanced degrees and certifications. For Advanced Practice Registered Nurses who do not have Operating Room experience, Banner’s First Assist Program Center offers opportunities for upskilling, giving these professionals the knowledge and skills to provide safe, competent surgical first assistant services.

Of course, it takes many different types of professionals to keep a large health care system running. To build and reinforce a culture of inclusion and belonging across all 52,000 employees, Banner Health promotes and cultivates a culturally diverse workforce. “We respect and value the various backgrounds and differences among our team members that allow them to be who they are. We believe leveraging these unique perspectives, experiences, and talents not only enhances our Banner family, but supports our effectiveness and success as an organization,” says Dubek.

Banner Health celebrates differences and unites those with shared experiences for greater connection and support, offering Employee Resource Groups for Veterans, Women in Leadership, Black and Latinx team members, LGBTQIA+ individuals, and most recently, team members with disabilities.

To learn more about supporting Banner Health’s Workforce Development programs, visit