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Three Ways to a Stable Health Care Career

With massive layoffs gutting almost all sectors of the U.S. economy, more and more job hunters are searching for stable work and livable pay. Research from the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) may indicate a solution. Over the next decade, the BLS predicts significant job growth in health care. From high school students and recent grads, to students of technical schools and college degree programs, the following three paths can help job hunters looking to benefit from the coming healthcare

For March 2008 alone, the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics announced the loss of 80,000 jobs. That brought the total number lost since the beginning of the year to 232,000–a figure similar to the job losses posted during the recession of 2001. Referring to the April 5th BLS report announcing the losses, senior United States economist Edward Mickey of Goldman Sachs found reason to worry: “These job numbers strengthen the case materially that we are in a recession.”

The dreaded “R”-word has job hunters facing a rocky economy and a significantly tighter job market. However, research from the BLS may also indicate a solution. Over the next decade, experts predict a significant expansion in the healthcare and social services sector of the U.S. economy, suggesting that job hunters may be able to cash in on a booming market for stable healthcare careers.

The Coming Health Care Boom
According to BLS analysts, by 2016, the health care and social services sector of the U.S. workforce should experience a growth of approximately 25 percent, an increase of nearly four million new jobs. As a result of an aging population and lengthened life expectancy, three million of these jobs (and seven of the twenty fastest-growing occupations) will be in healthcare.

Depending on experience, education, and ambition, job hunters in the currently sluggish economy may follow dozens of different paths to a stable healthcare career. However, many of these can be grouped together into three broad categories.

Climbing the Ladder: Train On-the-Job for Health Care Careers
More than half of the healthcare workers in nursing and residential care facilities have a high school diploma or less, as do a fifth of workers in hospitals. For high school students and recent graduates – hospitals, doctors’ offices, and clinics can provide numerous opportunities to start building a resume. Administrative and clerical positions are plentiful in health care; according to the BLS, the nation’s healthcare and social assistance sectors employed 33 percent of all receptionists and information clerks, and nine out of ten administrative assistants and secretaries also worked in health care.

While many of these are considered entry-level positions, medical receptionists and admitting clerks can take advantage of employer-sponsored continuing education. By gaining job experience in a healthcare environment, administrative personnel may also investigate additional steps toward advancing a health care career. Some continue to provide administrative and clerical support, while others may move into the clinical side of healthcare.

Two Years to a Healthcare Career: Professional Certificates and Associate’s Degrees
Although most healthcare workers have less than four years of college education, many of the more advanced administrative jobs (as well as all of the technical, clinical, and diagnostic/treatment positions) require some form of postsecondary training. This includes associate’s degrees, professional certification, and state licensure.

In administrative and clerical health care careers, postsecondary career training is often a condition for advancement or higher earnings. For example, while many medical clerks and administrative personnel can be hired with only a high-school diploma or equivalency, employers of medical transcriptionists and medical billing and coding specialists typically prefer applicants with up to two years of postsecondary training.

Virtually all clinical and medical/diagnostic health care careers require a minimum of two years of postsecondary career training, usually culminating in an associate’s degree. Workers in these positions include laboratory technicians, dental hygienists, radiological technologists, and nurses. Beyond all other jobs, nursing is expected to experience explosive growth. Currently, the single largest healthcare occupation in the United States–with 2.5 million jobs–nursing is expected add another 587,000 healthcare jobs by 2016. Nurses can enter the profession by training through approved hospital programs, associate’s degree nursing programs, or bachelor’s degree nursing programs.

Four Years of School: Bachelor’s Degrees and Beyond
While an associate’s degree may land job hunters entry- to mid-level clerical and clinical health care jobs, health diagnosing and treating practitioners are among the most educated members of the workforce. For job hunters who want to aim high while searching out stable careers and substantial earnings potential, a bachelor’s degree can be an ideal way to start. Before earning advanced degrees–physicians, personal and home care aides, medical assistants, physical therapy assistants, pharmacy technicians, dental hygienists, and even nurses often begin by earning a bachelor’s degree in a life science.

Bachelor’s degrees are one of the most common paths to nursing careers, since advancement among nurses and advanced practice nursing specialties require graduate degrees. Before earning a master’s degree and entering a nursing specialty–encompassing clinical nurse specialists, nurse anesthetists, nurse-midwives, and nurse practitioners–a bachelor’s degree must come first.

Job Hunters Have Resources Available
With many economists suggesting an imminent recession, health care may prove a welcome career umbrella in a stormy job market. For high-demand health-care careers, some employers may offer signing bonuses, flexible work schedules, and subsidized training–either via on-the-job instruction and coursework, or through tuition reimbursement.

For today’s storm-weathered job seekers, all that remains is to choose a direction on the often-curvy educational track. Whether searching for an immediate, entry-level position or a well-rounded healthcare degree program, a technical school or university, job hunters have plenty of options and opportunities available–it’s all a matter of knowing where to look.

Publish date: June 26, 2008