All's well with health-care jobs, despite the recession


One of the fastest-growing industries for jobs is the health-care field -- even in today's depressed employment market.

What's more, this healthy outlook for professional opportunities in the field should continue well into the next century.

Employment in health care grew by more than 2.5 million in the 1980s, and the trend is expected to continue in this decade.

Shelley David Franklin, an economist with the U.S. Department of Labor who specializes in health care, projects that by 2005 there will be 11,519,000 health care employees; in 1990, there were 7,844,000.

"Among the top 10 general occupations with the fastest growth overall are five health care jobs: home health aides, physical therapists, medical assistants, radiologic technologists and technicians and medical secretaries," said Franklin. "Among the next 10 are physical and corrective therapists, psychologists, occupational therapists, surgical technologists and medical record technicians."

The economist points out that what drives the growth of health care occupations is the demographic that "people are growing older, and older people usually require more health care."

Another factor is new technology. "It's going to decrease jobs in some areas of health care, but it also means new diagnostic tests will be developed, more life-threatening conditions will be treated and more rehabilitation services will be needed," Mr. Franklin said.

Salaries for the fastest-growing jobs range from a little more than minimum wage ($4.25 an hour) for home health aides to $583.50 a week for physical therapists.

The economist urges those considering the health field to "look at the numbers of jobs that are open in each category. For instance, more nurses will be needed than nuclear medicine technologists."

In this decade, "the health field will offer tremendous opportunities for employment, not just in hospitals but in home health care and physicians' offices," said Barbara B. Kreml, director of the department of human resources for the American Hospital Association.

"Health care is a real plus because you can get a job with anything from a high school diploma to an advanced degree, and there are good career ladders," said Ms. Kreml.

She notes that in 1990 there were 3.4 million health care employees working in 5,300 community hospitals. Hospitals now have 300 different job titles, she says.

"Opportunities are good and so are salaries," said Ms. Kreml. "The average pay of a nurse anesthetist is $58,000. And registered nurses with only two-year degrees are getting starting salaries of $42,000."

In a recent association survey of 3,184 hospitals, 70 percent reported a lack of candidates for job openings. Physical therapists had the highest vacancy rate, 16.6 percent.

There also are promising opportunities in three fields you may not have heard of, says Michael Stanton, an economist writing in the Occupational Outlook Quarterly.

Mr. Stanton cites:

* Biomedical equipment technicians maintain the advanced, high-tech machinery used in hospitals. Biomeds are specialized electronics technicians, many trained by manufacturers of medical equipment or who have two-year associate degrees. About 3,800 are certified. Starting salary is about $22,000.

* Perfusionists operate the heart-lung machines that pump blood during surgery. Graduates of accredited perfusion programs are preferred. About 1,800 are accredited by the American Board of Cardiovascular Perfusion in Hattiesburg, Miss. Average salary is $53,000.

* Orthotists design and make braces and other equipment for disabled people. Preferred training is completion of a certification program given by the American Board of Certification for Orthotics and Prosthetics in Alexandria, Va. Starting salaries range from $25,000 to $30,000.

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