U.S. Labor Dept. Predicts a Surge in Health Industry Jobs

The future looks bleak for many Americans trying to launch a career. Recent college graduates have spent their entire adult life in a recession. About 1 in 10 won’t find a job at all, let alone the job they want. That is, unless that job is related to health and medicine. According to a recent forecast by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, opportunities in health care fields are brighter than ever. The industry, which includes hospitals, family services, nursing and residential care facilities, is expected to increase overall by 33 percent, producing nearly six million new jobs.

Depending on the specific jobs, which encompass everything from physical therapy and personal care to surgery and biomedical engineering, the labor department projection of growth ranges from 20 to 70 percent by 2020. Jobs for physicians specializing in endocrinology stand to gain 22 percent. Even receptionist jobs at medical practices are expected to grow by 43 percent. Of the 30 fastest-growing jobs in the United States, half of them are in health care.

What’s driving the boom? The baby boomers, in part. “People are getting older,” says Sandra Raehl, president of allied staffing at CompHealth in Grand Rapids, Michigan. When a hospital or home care service provider runs short on staff, CompHealth finds health care experts to fill the gap. “Over the last couple of years, we’ve seen more need for therapists to go into the home,” she says. “It’s increased by double digits.” As America grays, the health care industry will have to keep expanding to meet the need.

New Technology Creates Jobs

Beyond elderly care, the job explosion in health and medicine offers careers in such fields as dentistry, audiology, health care education, occupational and physical therapy, and mental health counseling.

“It’s also advancements in medical technology,” says Raehl. Diagnostic procedures that once took 10 minutes in the doctor’s office now require a separate trip to a specialist. That trend is often cited as a reason for the staggering cost and inefficiency of U.S. health care, but there is no doubt that it drives growth in medical jobs. For every new medical device and technique, new jobs are created. The Bureau of Labor projects that jobs for medical diagnostic sonographers will almost double in the next decade.

Another reason for the job boom is the Affordable Care Act, President Obama’s health insurance plan, experts say. “That’s going to have a big impact,” says Jorge Alberto Girotti, associate dean at the University of Illinois College of Medicine (UIC), in Chicago. “There are 30 million people who currently have no access to health care who will get it starting in 2014.” And that influx is independent of the baby boomers because Medicare covers the elderly. “There’s going to be a wave of people coming into the system,” he says, “needing help with acute problems but also long-term chronic illness.”

Girotti worries that the U.S. health care system will not be able to handle it. “That’s going to be a lot of pressure and the system is already buckling,” he says, noting a prediction by the Association of American Medical Colleges that the United States could see a shortfall of nearly 100,000 doctors by 2020.

“It takes a long time to train doctors, typically 11 to 13 years, and even more for professions like neurosurgery,” he adds. Until medical schools expand, he predicts that non-physician professionals will be picking up the slack. “Nurses and physician assistants will have to take over many of the routine tasks that doctors currently do.”

Whatever the future may hold, the health care industry is already throwing its weight around. “There’s a ton of money to be made,” says Natasha Mott, an endocrinology Ph.D. student at Loyola University in Maywood, Illinois. She hopes to defend her thesis in December, and for the next step, she has chosen to stay in academic research. “I feel kind of crazy for the decision,” she admits.

Another soon-to-be endocrinologist, Joanna Spencer, took the other path. She is now an endocrinology resident at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. Spencer says her employment outlook is undeniably rosy. “My job security is above and beyond that of any of my classmates. I was aware of that the whole time.” But she adds that she is mostly driven by a passion for the field. “I like the mystery of endocrinology,” she says. “You take a constellation of unrelated symptoms and try to make sense of them. It’s a riddle.”

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