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2012 Healthcare Jobs Outlook

Economic slump or not, the healthcare job-creation engine will power ahead in 2012. Expect strong demand in most (but not all) healthcare occupations.

2012 Healthcare Jobs Outlook

2012 Healthcare Jobs Outlook

Economic stagnation or no, healthcare will most likely be one of the most productive job-creation engines in 2012. Patient and practitioner demographics will combine with healthcare system changes to churn out healthcare jobs month after month.
“Skilled workers are in demand because patient demand is so high,” says Eric Dickerson, managing director at recruiter Kaye/Bassman International in Dallas. While the American population ages and grows less healthy, millions of the healthcare workers who care for us are edging toward retirement.

Indeed, healthcare is still a rare bright spot in a job market that can't get out of first gear. Jobs in healthcare rose to 14.19 million in October 2011 from 13.88 million a year earlier, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Hospital jobs increased by 84,000 over the period, but ambulatory services -- physician offices, outpatient clinics and home health agencies -- stole the show, adding more than 173,000 positions.

Reform Continues to Shape Healthcare Hiring

Under healthcare reform, “the market has shifted dramatically over the past year, driven by performance ratings of customer satisfaction, clinical outcomes and cost,” says Eric Rackow, MD, CEO of SeniorBridge, a 2,000-employee provider of home healthcare services for the elderly based in New York City. This emphasis is steeply increasing the demand for healthcare professionals such as case managers and healthcare informatics specialists.

The emphasis on community healthcare is boosting the business of home health agencies and creating many healthcare job opportunities. “We expect to grow our staff of nurses, nurse practitioners, social workers and home health aides by 15 percent in 2012,” says Rackow.

Doctors, Nurses and Physician Extenders in Demand

The folks who provide primary healthcare -- including private-practice doctors and nurses -- are in demand by all stakeholders in the healthcare system, from patients to hospitals seeking to fold physician practices into their healthcare assets.

“General practitioners will continue to be in huge demand,” says Dickerson. “Fewer and fewer of them have been trained over the past decade.” Therefore, physician extenders such as “nurse practitioners and physician assistants will be in great demand at long-term care facilities, community clinics, hospitals -- the full gamut of healthcare facilities.”

After a substantial abatement of the nursing shortage through the 2007-2009 recession, demand has resumed -- to a degree. “In 2012, the [American Nurses Association] expects a continuation of a trend toward modest growth in employment of nurses,” says Adam Sachs, a spokesperson for the American Nurses Association. “The labor market for RNs could be affected significantly by political and federal budget outcomes.”

Due to a complex interaction of factors -- from the density of nursing schools per region to the reemployment of retired nurses who need to rebuild their retirement funds -- the availability of nursing jobs is far from uniform. “In some geographic areas, there’s still a critical nursing shortage; in other places, not so much,” Dickerson says.

Physical Therapists Are in Critical Shortage

Physical therapists (PTs) are among the most secure professionals in the healthcare industry, because supply fails to meet demand for their services practically everywhere. “There are pockets within the US where there are only five therapists within a 100-mile radius,” says Dickerson.

If anything, the shortage will deepen, because the aging of physical therapists is dramatic. In 2000, 15.6 percent of PTs were between the ages 50 and 64; in 2010, 32 percent were in that age bracket, according to a report from the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA). Unemployment among physical therapists remains remarkably low: In 2010, only 0.4 percent -- one in 250 -- of PTs seeking work were jobless.

"Nobody knows how accountable-care organizations and medical homes will shake out, but healthcare reform in general will decrease the number of uninsured, which will increase demand for PTs," says Marc Goldstein, senior director of research for the APTA. "Physical therapy programs are being developed or expanded, so the current level of 6,000 graduates annually should creep up.”

Technological Advances Stunt Growth for Medical Imaging Professionals

Which healthcare profession is lagging many in terms of job creation? For imaging technologists, vacancy rates have been dropping for nearly a decade, and that trend won’t likely change in 2012. From 2003 to 2011, as technologies like digital imaging have increased productivity, radiographer job vacancies have plummeted from 10.3 percent to 2 percent and job openings for CT specialists from 8.5 percent to 2 percent, according to the 2011 Radiologic Sciences Workplace Survey by the American Society of Radiologic Technologists (ASRT).

Over the same period, the number of radiographers per facility has decreased while all newer healthcare imaging specialties have increased. Overall, "the average number of technologists per facility isn't growing, and people are delaying retirement," says John Culbertson, director of research at the ASRT. "Managers may be holding positions open until healthcare reform becomes clearer."

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