Career Remedy: Where the Jobs Are in Health Care

Posted by Cara Scharf on June 16, 2011
Career Remedy: Where the Jobs Are in Health Care

No matter what the economy does, people will always need health care. That's why the industry has remained a bright spot for employment despite waning opportunities in other sectors. Health care employs people in a multitude of roles, and some are more needed than others. Here are five rapidly growing occupations that don't require an M.D.

Home Care

An aging Baby Boomer generation, rising hospital costs, and technological advancements are likely to drive demand for in-home healthcare for years to come. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment for home healthcare aides is expected to grow a whopping 49 percent between 2006 and 2016, much larger than the average rate of job growth. Although most positions in home health care are reserved for nurses, social workers and administrators can find opportunities in community outreach and coordination.

Workers in this sector give patients the opportunity to remain in the comfort of their homes and become an invaluable resource for families-but the pay is generally low, the job requires a lot of time and travel, and it can be physically and emotionally taxing.

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Health Care IT

Health care lags behind most industries in the adoption of new technologies, but a push toward electronic medical records (EMRs) and standardized information sharing are driving more health systems to embrace the possibilities of IT. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act passed in February 2009 provides around $20 billion in funding and incentives for hospitals and private practices to implement electronic record systems, which will drive job growth.

"Health care IT is one of the hottest areas because there is money being applied to IT organizations that figure out meaningful ways to use electronic records and reduce costs. That means a lot of jobs in technology," says Deborah Bowen, executive VP at the American College of Healthcare Executives. Most IT roles exist within private firms that contract out their services. Positions include everything from software developers and systems analysts to help-desk assistants.

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Registered Nurses (RNs)

RNs are nurses certified with a Bachelor's degree, an associate's degree, or a certificate. An aging workforce, nursing school faculty shortages, and an increased need for care for the aging Baby Boomer population are all increasing the demand for RNs. The job offers a lot of responsibility and patient interaction-but it can be hard work. "Nursing is not easy," says Stephanie Eberle, manager of educational resources and client services at the Stanford School of Medicine Career Center. "You work long hours, you're prone to overtime, and a there's a lot of paperwork to fill out."

While hospitals need nurses, a newly minted degree doesn't necessarily guarantee a job. "Hospitals need experienced nurses, particularly in critical care, so new grads aren't finding jobs easily," says Linda Dite, VP of clinical services at Capital Health system in New Jersey. She says the trick is to gain experience after school, through jobs at clinics or in home health care, or going on to more specialized training and higher degrees, such as nurse practitioner.

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Medical Assistants/Technicians
These roles are similar to nursing roles in that they are considered support staff, but medical assistant and technician certificates can be obtained in as little as one year. Assistants and technicians support doctors in many ways: Sometimes they perform administrative duties such as scheduling and filing records, but they also perform work that doctors don't have time to do, such as drawing blood and taking patient histories. "With more people coming in for care, doctors have less time and therefore need more support," says Eberle.

Assistants and technicians can specialize in areas such as radiology or physical therapy, which Dite says garner high demand at hospitals. Several vocational, 2-year, and 4-year schools offer specialized tracks for those interested in these roles. Some medical assistants also choose to get extra education to become nurses or physician assistants. 

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Hospitals, clinics, and private practices don't run themselves. They need savvy business and administrative employees to help with finance, marketing, fundraising, government relations, and more. "Financial challenges are always a top concern in healthcare," says Bowen. "So hospitals need people who can propose cost efficiencies and bring an understanding of government funding and how to access capital."

Another area to consider is patient safety, which involves improving care and reducing errors. Employees working in patient safety may be project managers or directors, but these careers often require medical training to understand the processes of hospitals. Still, with more and more patients weighing down the system, administrative support workers are always needed. "Hospitals certainly have a lot of entry-level jobs for admissions clerks, assistants, accounts payable and receivable, HR, training, and more. They are all good starting points for people interested in healthcare management to see if the environment fits," says Bowen.

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