10 health care industries with the largest share of retirement-age workers

Incredible Health compared medical industries' shares of employees 65 and older to highlight which health care fields need new workers most.

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With each passing year, the United States is getting older—and not just on July 4.

The U.S. is considered a rapidly aging nation, according to USAging, an organization that supports and advocates for older adults' quality of life. By 2030, 1 in 5 Americans will be 65 or older. This demographic shift marks a historic population size of American elders. It also poses a challenge to many of the social service systems that have previously served much smaller populations of older adults. In particular, an aging America is a significant challenge for health care.

As more people age, the demand for at-home long-term care has expanded tremendously. Older Americans prefer long-term care in their homes rather than relocating to nursing homes.

Per a 2023 study conducted by the University of Pennsylvania's Amanda Kreider, a postdoctoral researcher at the Leonard Davis Institute of Health Economics, and Rachel Werner, a professor of medicine, the number of Medicaid-covered patients seeking home care increased by over 1.2 million people between 2008 and 2019, and rates during the COVID-19 pandemic suggest that number will only continue to grow. This quickly increasing demand has resulted in an industry dilemma, with fewer home care workers available to meet the growing need.

America's aging population not only results in an older patient population but an aging workforce. Many health care professionals are approaching retirement age, resulting in a shortage of crucial doctors, nurses, and administrative health staff.

CNN Health reports that if the U.S. is to maintain current patient-to-provider ratios and function effectively, the industry needs to recruit and train 17,000 additional primary care practitioners, 12,000 dental health practitioners, and 8,200 mental health practitioners. With the current number of incoming health care professionals, the country is ill-equipped to serve its older adult population or face public health crises, like pandemics.

There are various efforts underway to recruit more health care professionals. The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, led by Sen. Bernie Sanders, is working with historically Black universities to grow the health care workforce, specifically with Black and brown professionals, who are underrepresented among physicians. Additionally, 48 states now allow legally responsible relatives to serve as paid home caregivers to help meet the increased demand, up from 36 states in 2020. Payment rates have also increased to help retain existing health care workers.

The health care industry itself has also pivoted internally to make work more accessible for older adult employees. Some health care systems have implemented shorter shifts with flexible schedules to accommodate workers who experience fatigue and burnout. Seasonal schedules, weekend-only work, and contract roles are becoming more common as well. In this way, hospitals and other health care systems are implementing creative solutions to retain long-tenured staff.

To better understand the effect America's aging has on health care, Incredible Health used data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics to rank medical industries by their share of employees aged 65 and older. The analysis spans various medical sectors, including dentistry, nursing, physicians, residential care, chiropractors, and more. Read on to see which industries are most affected by an aging employee base and in need of new workers.

#10. Psychiatric and substance abuse hospitals

Doctor trying to help woman patient in the hospital.

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- There were 81,000 people working in psychiatric and substance abuse hospitals in the United States in 2022.
- 3,000 (3.7%) are aged 65 and over

#9. Hospitals

An older woman doctor examines an older man.

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- There were 7,248,000 people working in hospitals in the United States in 2022.
- 359,000 (5.0%) are aged 65 and over

#8. Outpatient care centers

A young nurse speaks with an older doctor.

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- There were 2,160,000 people working in outpatient care centers in the United States in 2022.
- 126,000 (5.8%) are aged 65 and over

#7. Dentists' offices

Mature male dentist speaking with woman patient.

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- There were 960,000 people working in dentists' offices in the United States in 2022.
- 59,000 (6.1%) are aged 65 and over

#6. Nursing care facilities

Nurse holding hand of senior man in home.

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- There were 1,280,000 people working in nursing care facilities in the United States in 2022.
- 93,000 (7.3%) are aged 65 and over

#5. Residential care facilities

Patient

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- There were 874,000 people working in residential care facilities in the United States in 2022.
- 65,000 (7.4%) are aged 65 and over

#4. Physicians' offices

Mature doctor in an office to side with smile on face.

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- There were 1,631,000 people working in physicians' offices in the United States in 2022.
- 131,000 (8.0%) are aged 65 and over

#3. Home health care services

Nurse handing over a walking cane to a patient.

Dmytro Zinkevych // Shutterstock

- There were 1,459,000 people working in home health care services in the United States in 2022.
- 140,000 (9.6%) are aged 65 and over

#2. Optometrists' offices

Senior optician checking iris of patient.

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- There were 148,000 people working in optometrists' offices in the United States in 2022.
- 18,000 (12.2%) are aged 65 and over

#1. Chiropractors' offices

Senior male chiropractor examining patient

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- There were 139,000 people working in chiropractors' offices in the United States in 2022.
- 22,000 (15.8%) are aged 65 and over

Story editing by Jeff Inglis. Copy editing by Paris Close. Photo selection by Clarese Moller.

This story originally appeared on Incredible Health and was produced and distributed in partnership with Stacker Studio.

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