Healthcare employment rose by 54,700 jobs in December with new roles in ambulatory care and hospitals, representing the strongest month of industry job gains since September’s 60,100, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ (BLS') monthly report released Friday morning.
Ambulatory care services led the way with 29,900 new jobs, followed by hospitals adding 15,700 jobs and nursing and residential care facilities adding 9,100, according to BLS.
The sector’s monthly adds surpassed the roughly 46,000 tallied in October, the 45,000 gained in November and 2022’s monthly average of 49,000.
December’s numbers capped off a strong year for healthcare workforce recovery in the wake of the pandemic’s widespread flight.
Compared to December 2021, the ambulatory care, hospital and nursing and residential care subsectors added nearly 580,000 jobs. The year’s 49,000 average monthly job gain was also well above the average monthly gain of 9,000 from 2021.
“While this increase will eventually level off, healthcare has regained employment levels last seen pre-pandemic,” Michael Haas, healthcare senior analyst at consulting firm RSM US, told Fierce Healthcare.
Labor shortages have been a consistent sore spot for healthcare often cited as a primary factor in capacity issues and elevated expenses. Haas cited a Kaufman Hall report from mid-2022 outlining hospital labor expenses increasing from $4,009 in 2019 to $5,494 by March 2022—an increase accompanied by contract labor expenses that grew from 2% of total labor to 11%.
More recent industry reports and earnings statements from healthcare providers suggested organizations were beginning to curtail their reliance on contract labor and, accordingly, see some early relief across their labor expenses. BLS’ latest report suggests that trend will continue into the early part of 2023, Haas said.
“With these stronger than expected healthcare employment numbers, organizations can start strategizing ways to end contracts with external staff and investing more time and resources with their internal employees to effectively provide quality care and reduce overall labor spending,” he said.
As a whole, the U.S. economy added 223,000 jobs in December and saw unemployment inch down to 3.5%.