Health Sciences Job Trends Sporadic
February 18, 2016
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Jeffrey Li grew up steeped in the health sciences. His uncle and grandfather had careers as successful acupuncturists and massage therapists. His great grandmother was a nurse, and his great-great-grandfather was a well-known acupuncturist and practitioner of traditional Chinese medicine in the early part of the last century.
It is blood.
Li wanted a major and profession that allowed him to help people, as his family had done for generations. This led him to choose physical therapy, which is a doctoral program. He is also getting a bachelor’s degree in healthcare management. Seeing his family find steady and successful work in the industry factored into his choice.
“I feel the rise of the health science is good as it is something that is in high demand nowadays, and the need for medical practitioners is something that will never go away,” said Li.
Over the course of the next decade, jobs in the health care sector are projected to grow by about 30%, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This growth is more than twice that of other job markets, such as the construction industry.
There are reasons behind the growth. Dr. Leamor Kahanov, Dean of the College of Health Sciences, said the nation’s population is aging, and healthcare professionals are retiring, especially doctors, who typically worked an 80 to 120 hour work week. “And the new individuals coming in only work about a 40 to 50 hour work week, so you need two individuals for every one that retires,” said Kahanov.
She said it’s been a problem for well over a decade. “Just all of a sudden, it’s become more noticeable, but it isn’t something that happened yesterday, and I think we need to be cognizant of that. It’s a slow moving ship.”
And while it is true there will always be a demand for those in the health sciences (people get sick, or they get injured and need medical aid), it is fair to question whether the current high demand for jobs will continue as many more young people are drawn to the field as a source for dependable, well-paying work.
According to an article from the Center for Workforce Studies, the health-care sector includes jobs such as nurses and physical therapists who directly work in the field, as well as medical jobs in non-health science related companies or organizations.
In Fortune Magazine’s Top 10 in-demand jobs for 2015, positions in the healthcare industry tied for the number one spot with the technology industry. The number one job in 2015 was registered nurse, which is a regular on the magazine’s list.
The health care industry added 45,000 jobs in October, according to a Bureau of Labor Statistics report. Employment growth continued in ambulatory health care services, in which over 27,000 jobs were added, and in hospitals, which saw an increase of over 18,000 jobs. Over the past year, the health care industry as a whole has added 495,000 jobs. This is twice the rate of growth in the entire construction industry, which in the past year added 233,000 jobs.
What is interesting, however, is that, despite this growth, many positions within the health care industry are not increasing.
According to the U.S. News & World Report’s Health Care Employment Index (which used information from the Bureau of Labor Statistics), while job opportunities such as registered nurses and massage therapists are on the rise, many other jobs are growing at much smaller rates, such as transcriptionists, pharmacy aides, recreational therapists, respiratory technicians, and prosthodontists. Jobs like home health aides are actually on the decline, although this may be due to insurance changes and the home services covered by the plans.
“I think we are in a transition. I’m not a futurist. For the next decade or so, it looks like the growth will continue; beyond that will be more interesting. With the influx of technology and wearable technologies, it will be interesting to see what happens, not only with the type of providers we are going to need, but how many providers we are going to need,” said Kahanov.
Home health aides are also difficult to gauge, because for the amount of aides employed by agencies, there are twice as many who work independently, often paid under the table. According to an article published on nextavenue.org (a website associated with PBS), as of this year, home health aides are entitled to new protections under the law, which those working under the table will not receive.
Jobs in health care research are also declining. Drug companies in the United States have cut over 3,000,000 jobs since 2000, according to the consulting firm Challenger, Gray, & Christmas.
Government health research is also downsizing due to funding cuts. Although the National Institute of Health saw an influx of $10 billion following Congress passing the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, that money has run out.
Medical doctors are sorely needed, however. Many complete medical school and go into high-paying specialties instead of serving as general or family practitioners. “[At Misericordia] we don’t have what the desperate need is, and that is family practitioner physicians. That where the desperate need is, because there is just not enough.”
“The country as a whole needs more primary care providers, i.e. family practice docs and internists. Despite the Managed Care Act making health insurance more available to more people, there does not appear to be enough primary care providers to meet demand,” said Dr. Richard Sweeney, an emergency trauma surgeon in Seattle, Washington, who completed his pre-medical education at the University of Scranton.
The unique challenges of family practice may deter newly-minted doctors from pursuing that path, Sweeney said.
“I still think most medical school graduates are going into residencies other than primary care. Primary care providers work longer hours, often for less pay, than other specialties. This translates to a challenging quality of life where work/life balance is askew and not compensated by increased pay and benefits,” said Sweeney
The National Residency Matching Program, which tracks doctor placements, found that 72 family medicine programs were left unfilled last year. In comparison, orthopedic surgery had no unfilled programs.
Out of twelve local colleges and universities, most offer at least ten programs in the health sciences, ranging from certificate programs to doctoral programs (and in the case of the Commonwealth Medical College in Scranton, medical doctor and public health programs). Several schools are also adding exercise science as a major.
The explosion of students in health-related majors is dramatically increasing the number of graduates entering the job market.
“The health sciences – we have more individuals applying than we have room,” said Kahanov. The physical therapy program receives 450 applicants each year for 60 open positions.
The popularly of health-related majors is fueled by the growing popularly of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) programs. In Japan, many universities have begun to de-emphasize the liberal arts and humanities, and instead focus on STEM and business programs. Last year, President Obama pledged over $240 million to STEM education.
And it is not difficult to see where the push for STEM programs come from. According to a recent study conducted by the Paris-based Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, the United States ranked 14 out of 34 nations in science education. Ahead of the United States were nations such as Poland, Australia, South Korea, and Canada.
Most health science-based programs naturally fall under the College of Health Sciences, though there are a few scattered elsewhere. Other programs include health care management, psychology, and health care informatics in the College of Professional Studies, as well as the medical science and clinical lab science/medical technology programs in the College of Arts & Sciences. In Fall 2015, 987 students registered in the College of Health Sciences, while the other programs had 288 students registered.
In the academic year 2014-2015, 353 students graduated from the College of Health Sciences. Health sciences-related programs graduated 112 students. These numbers do not include winter 2015 graduates, which were not available at the time of publication.
While the university is a liberal arts school, it has always included health sciences. Nursing was among the first majors made available. The university also has offered a pre-medical track since its founding, and in in 1924, it became a distinct program. It is now included in the biology department.
Kahanov said she doesn’t see the university diminishing its liberal arts foundation. “I believe the liberal arts are critical in decision making, and I would never want to see that diminished by any means. It’s necessary for our health care providers and our health care individuals in the health sciences to have that liberal arts foundation.”
And for now, at least, the need for workers in the health field is steady.
“I can say all of our graduates are finding employment because the need is there,” Kahanov said.
But Li warned that a bubble can form in any employment sector, including health sciences.
“Any field on the rise like mine, if it’s not properly monitored, can implode. Anyone would be wise to keep that in mind, and that’s not even just a health science thing. It happened with web sites, it happened with banks, it can happen to anyone. But even knowing that, it’s not going to stop me from going into a field I am passionate about,” said Li.