Health care staffing President David Alexander gives job hunting tips

Health care workerOne of the few bright spots in the job market during this Great Recession has been health care. Month after month, the industry has added jobs. In May, 8,000 health-care positions were created, a slight dip of the average of 20,000 a month over the past year. David Alexander, president of Soliant Health, one of the nation's largest health-care staffing agencies, expects the trend to continue for the next several years.

Retirements are creating shortages of qualified workers. Meanwhile, Baby Boomers are aging and will need additional medical care, he told WalletPop in a telephone interview. Add to that another 30 million Americans entering the system due to health-care reform, and "we like where we are situated as a staffing agency," he added.

Before you take out a student loan to train or retrain in health care, here are five things to know:

Where the jobs are
Alexander said that with primary-care physicians shorthanded and overworked, more and more patients will be seen by nurse practitioners and physician's assistants. Further propelling that trend: insurance companies are willing to reimburse them at a slightly lower rate than primary care physicians.

Other hot health care jobs include pharmacist, physical therapist and nurse.

It's an investment
There may be a labor shortage but, ironically, these occupations are requiring more years of schooling. Once, becoming a physical therapist took four years. Today, it takes about five to six years, said Alexander. Getting a pharmacist degree now takes five years instead of four years.

"Health care is more complicated," he explained. "What a pharmacist needs to know in the 1960s versus. today is totally different." And, he added, there is a push to "make jobs more specialized."

If time is of the essence, consider jobs that are a rung lower, like physical therapy assistants or pharmacy techs, he advised. These usually only require two years and will, given the labor shortage, mean working in the same environment and sometimes even in the same capacity.

Plan for your future

Consider your career aspirations when weighing what would make the right fit professionally. A nurse practitioner or physician's assistant may require more schooling than an RN, but their job prospects are also broader. Same with someone with a bachelor's degree in nursing. Alexander said more nurse managers hold a BSN than an RN or LPN.

Do your research
A health care degree can mean a more secure financial future, but don't overlook what the job entails on a day-to-day basis. Ask friends or acquaintances who are already in those positions. Visit your local community college to learn not only what it takes to get into a program, but also what it takes once you've graduated. "You may think pharmacy is a great career until you find yourself working Christmas Eve in a retail chain," cautioned Alexander. "Or nursing is great until you're emptying a bed pan. All positions have drawbacks, but make sure they are not knock-out factors."

Be realistic

Whatever route you go, expect wages to rise given the growing need for qualified personnel. Still, if science is not your forte, be prepared for a tough slog. The industry may be hungry for more workers, but the programs are more competitive than ever. Alexander said 50,000 qualified nursing applicants were turned away in the U.S. last year because there was simply not enough faculty to teach them. "Even if we had masses move towards degrees in health care, we just aren't in a position to educate them."

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RoySlater

Would you say that physical therapy jobs are currently growing or are they on the decline now that that economy has begun to slide again? Also how much schooling is required to become a physical therapist? http://www.jacksontherapy.com

August 17 2011 at 5:56 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply