Healthcare Jobs Galore

An aging population and new initiatives bode well for employment in this industry

(Illustration by Ray Alma)

Whitney Goldsberry wasn’t surprised to land a healthcare job within two weeks of receiving her master’s degree in communication sciences and disorders in May 2009 from Emerson College in Boston. “It took most of the people in my program less than a month to find a job,” says the speech-language pathologist for special needs children. “There’s just such high demand.” She attributes the need to changes in laws that have made speech therapy more available to children at an earlier age, the number of veterans with impaired speech as a result of head injuries, and our aging population. With an 11% employment growth projected between 2006 and 2016 and an average salary of $75,000, speech pathology is just one of many growing jobs available in healthcare.

Despite staggering job losses overall in 2008 and 2009, the healthcare sector actually added hundreds of thousands of jobs. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, nearly 22% of all wage and salary jobs added to the economy between 2006 and 2016 will be in the healthcare sector. Although much has been reported about the nationwide need for nurses, qualified employees are needed throughout the healthcare industry. Opportunities abound, but knowing industry trends and occupational requirements will make all the difference in securing a post in this field.

Your Job Search
Jobs in healthcare can be categorized into four broad groups: managerial, business, and financial; professional; service; and office and administrative support. Positions within these groupings require a range of experience and myriad educational, certification, and licensing credentials—and they don’t necessarily involve patient care. There are a number of managerial and administrative positions for which job seekers who lack a health or science background but have basic business experience can apply.  Even those who have a clinical background can find jobs that don’t directly involve patients, if they prefer such as case managers and nurse educators.

Education, Training, and Advancement
The level of education and skills needed to work in the healthcare industry varies greatly, from an associate degree to a doctorate. Aspiring physician’s assistants must complete an accredited two-year program and pass a licensing exam. To become a medical scientist, a student must obtain, as a minimum requirement, a doctorate in biological science. Ona Okoro, a staff nurse at a veterans  hospital in St. Louis, could have entered her profession with just an associate degree, but instead she obtained a bachelor’s in psychology and then a second bachelor’s in nursing. “There are more opportunities with a bachelor’s degree,” she says. “It’s a boost to your résumé.” Okoro plans to get a master’s degree once she’s gained more work experience. Although many positions in healthcare require only an associate degree, more and more jobs are beginning to up the educational ante. For example, more entry-level nursing positions are requiring a bachelor’s degree, and there is a push to extend the requirement industrywide.

Salaries in the healthcare sector, just as in any other, depend upon position, experience, education, and location. For an entry-level clinical research technician position in Omaha, Nebraska, the average pay is $34,111; the same job in San Diego offers an average salary of $40,192. Having a master’s degree will likely increase your salary wherever you reside.

The new ‘it’ position
The Obama administration has established new initiatives and legislation to digitize medical records and use more technologically managed systems to enhance patient safety and cut costs, such as the new medication administration system that uses barcode technology to track how and when patients receive their medication. The administration has also earmarked significant stimulus funds for this project. Of the $317 billion from the stimulus package (the dollar amount that excludes monies allocated for tax provisions), $66.15 billion has been dedicated to the labor, health, and education sectors; $19.57 billion has been dedicated to the Department of Health and Human Services. Although much of the stimulus money won’t be distributed for another year and a half, many institutions are now hiring in preparation for when it does become available.

According to the 2000–2010 Job Outlook in Brief published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, computer information systems managerial positions are slated to increase at a rate much faster than average. “Healthcare needs every IT person we can get our hands on,” says Gregg Veltri, chief information officer at Denver Health Medical Center, which is in the top 2.5% of hospitals in the nation that leverage technology for patient care.  What’s needed to successfully transition from paper to digital records, according to Veltri, is people with experience in traditional information technology, but it’s also helpful to have those with clinical backgrounds working as technological liaisons. Called clinician hybrids, these professionals use their clinical knowledge to ensure that the systems being created will actually be useful. Although the tendency may not be to initially link healthcare and technology together, Veltri says, they have more to do with each other than you might think. “We have the same technology that other businesses have; we just have the added complication of having these healthcare systems that are used to provide patient care, so mistakes cannot be tolerated.”

This article originally appeared in the February 2010 issue of Black Enterprise magazine.

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