5 hot health care careers for those looking to make a difference

Written by Donna Gregory

Are you seeking job security? Then look no further than your local hospital or physician’s office. 

The overall economy might be languishing, but the health-care industry is thriving, fueled by federally-mandated health reforms and baby boomers who are getting older, sicker and require more care. 

According to a 2012 Georgetown University study, more than 5 million new health care jobs will be created between 2010 and 2020—a growth rate twice that of the national economy. That means a lot of career opportunities for the right people with the right skills.

“I think health care is going to continue to be the one industry that remains virtually unfazed by our tumultuous economy,” says Michael Summers, provost of the Virginia Beach, Va., campus of Tidewater Community College. “I tell young people that if they want to get into an area where they can weather the ups and downs of the economy, either science, technology or health care is best. It’s going to continue to be a stable employer for generations to come.” 

So, what are the most in-demand health care jobs these days? We asked human resources reps from local health care systems to identify their hardest-to-fill positions. Here’s what they had to say. 

 
Medical records and health information technicians

Why they’re in demand: More patients will lead to the prescription of more medical tests and procedures. Additional medical records and health information technicians (sometimes called “coders”) will be needed to organize and manage all of that information. The health care industry’s move from paper-based files to electronic medical records also is driving demand. Expected job growth rate by 2020: 21 percent. 

General duties: Medical records and health information technicians organize and manage health records, including coding medical procedures for reimbursement by insurance. “The people who are really good coders can make a difference to the organization’s bottom line,” says Kim Coleman, director of talent acquisition and workforce planning with Bon Secours Health System. “You have to have a vast knowledge to get it right.” 

Median salary: $32,350

Required education: Postsecondary certificate or associate degree 

 
Physical therapists

Why they’re in demand: Because of advancing health technologies, aging baby boomers are expected to live longer than generations past. More physical therapists will be needed over the next few decades to help older adults  and others who require physical rehabilitation for acute and chronic conditions. 

Fewer people are choosing careers as physical therapists because of more rigorous educational requirements. “Physical therapy requires a high level of education,” says Laura Amdusky, HR/recruitment manager with Sentara Healthcare. “It used to be a four-year degree, then it went to a master’s degree.” Expected job growth rate by 2020: 39 percent.

General duties: Physical therapists help ill and injured patients improve their mobility and manage pain. They often work with patients who have temporary or permanent disabilities, and with those recovering from serious health conditions such as stroke, back and neck injuries and amputations.

Median salary: $76,310

Required education: Master’s or doctoral degree 

 
Physician assistants and nurse practitioners 

Why they’re in demand: Millions of previously uninsured patients are expected to flood the health care system as government-mandated reforms are enacted. That’s predicted to dramatically increase doctor-to-patient ratios, prompting the need for more physician assistants and nurse practitioners to help physicians manage their caseloads. Expected job growth rate by 2020, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: 26 percent to 30 percent. 

General duties: Physician assistants and nurse practitioners practice medicine under the direction of a physician. They commonly work in physicians’ offices, often providing primary care to patients for a variety of acute and chronic conditions. Most states allow physician assistants and nurse practitioners to prescribe medications. “They can basically do anything,” explains Dr. C. Donald Combs, vice president and dean of the School of Health Professions at Eastern Virginia Medical School in Norfolk, Va.. “They just do it under the supervision of an attending physician.”

Median salary: $85,000-$90,000

Required education: Master’s degree 

 

Occupational therapists 

Why they’re in demand: As people live longer, it will create a demand for more occupational therapists to help seniors and others navigate the challenges of living with chronic conditions and maintain as much independence as possible. Expected job growth rate by 2020: 33 percent.

General duties: Occupational therapists oversee the rehabilitation of injured, ill and disabled patients, helping them develop or regain the skills they need to perform daily tasks at home and work. They often work with patients following stroke, heart attack, traumatic brain injury or other major medical events. 

Median salary: $72,320

Required education: Master’s or doctoral degree 

 

Registered nurses (with experience) 

Why they’re in demand: Many colleges and universities increased student enrollments in recent years to meet the growing demand for nurses. The influx of new graduates is helping health care systems fill entry-level jobs, but it’s still a challenge to find experienced nurses for mid- to advanced-level positions. “It’s not uncommon for us to have a nursing position in a specialty area open for 30 to 45 days to try to find someone who is experienced,” says Regina Harris, administrative director of Riverside Health System’s Talent Recruitment Center. Local health care systems report shortages of experienced registered nurses (with at least two to three years of experience) in specialty areas such as cardiac, oncology, trauma/emergency and others. Expected job growth rate by 2020: 26 percent.

General duties: Registered nurses provide patient care in a variety of settings, including hospital emergency rooms, critical care, operating rooms, physicians’ offices, nursing care facilities and others. 

Median salary: $64,690

Required education: Certificate and associate degree programs are still available at some schools, but a bachelor’s degree is now required in many settings.