Mon June 13, 2011
Health Care

Nursing Tops for Hottest Jobs in Colorado Health Care

Looking for a new career after a devastating recession? The hottest jobs are in health care.

The single fastest-growing job is registered nurse. Half a million new positions are expected to be created in the decade between 2008 and 2018, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

With an average annual salary of about $62,000, registered nurses provide many types of health care, from advice to injections. The job requires a college degree in nursing and passing a licensing exam.

About 12,000 of those nursing jobs will be in Colorado, according to the state Department of Labor and Employment.

Other high-demand positions require less specialized education. Home health aides need only on-the-job training and earn $20,000 a year. That is the second-fastest growing job category in the country. Some 460,000 aides will be needed nationwide by 2018, according to the BLS.

Home health aides help their patients, often the elderly, with their medications, bathing, preparing meals and other tasks that allow them to remain living at home rather than in an assisted living or nursing home.

Other health care careers with growing demand include pharmacy technicians, dental assistants and hygienists, medical and billing staff, physical therapists, nurse’s aides, and biomedical scientists and engineers. The Colorado Department of Labor and Employment has predicted the number of new jobs of all types, broken down for each of Colorado’s major cities.

“Health care is the place to be,” says Alisa Rathbun, vice president of human relations for Centura Health at Home, based in Denver. “It’s exciting.”

Rathbun expects her company to grow steadily and require more nurses and physical therapists experienced in hospice and home care. Shortages in those skills will make those jobs hard to fill, she said.

While no job can be completely recession-proof, the Colorado Center for Nursing Excellence cites two major reasons why the expected boom in health care won’t change at the whims of the economy, according to its recent report, Nursing and Health Care Workforce in Colorado [pdf]

First, the baby boom generation has begun to reach retirement age, and this large and growing group of elderly will need more care. Second, people are living longer, resulting in higher demands on the system.

These predictions may be confusing to this year’s graduating nurses, because they are finding it hard to get their first jobs. Karren Kowalski, interim CEO of the Colorado Center for Nursing Excellence, says that is because many nurses delayed their own retirements due to the recession. But within seven years, the state will have a shortage of 6,300 nurses.

That’s also driven by the anticipated increase by 2020 in Colorado’s population by 900,000 people, half of them retirees, she said.

The increased demand for health care personnel could rise even higher if federal and state health care reforms continue. The federal law is expected to push 32 million more people nationwide onto insurance. That translates into higher demands on a broad range of medical tests and treatments.

In Colorado, 540,000 people are expected to go on insurance, according to estimates from the Colorado Health Institute.

“I don’t know how we’re going to cover them,” Kowalski said.

Not even the Obama Administration appears to have calculated just how many more health care jobs would be created nationally, even though new federal includes $400 billion a year in net new health care spending by the federal government, plus expanded private insurance.

Bureau of Labor Statistics spokeswoman Stacey Standish said her agency never calculates the increase or decrease in expected jobs resulting from the passage of a specific law or policy.

The Congressional Budget Office has also not figured the number of new health care jobs that will be needed nationally. Analysts at the nonpartisan agency considered only the macroeconomic effects of the health care law, and the effect on total number of jobs in the economy, said staffer Deborah Kilroe. The CBO says the law will increase employment overall, but opponents maintain new taxes involved will kill more jobs than the law creates.

Dr. Mark Earnest, an associate professor at the University of Colorado Medical School. Colorado’s medical school, said the health care industry does recognize there will be an increase in demand as a result of the new law.

“There is a conversation nationally on how many people do we need to be training,” he said. But the CU medical school is not planning on growing, given the state’s budget crunch, he said.

Still, some institutions are not planning to increase staffing for the effect of health care reform because they don’t know if the provisions adding more people to insurance will really take effect, given the intense political division over the issue, Earnest said. Republican opponents have targeted the reform law for repeal. They hope to achieve that either through court challenges or by securing a majority in Washington during the 2012 elections.

If the reform law does stick, Earnest said, “There will be a catch-up period for needs that hadn’t been met,” as people who didn’t have insurance previously get health problems checked and fixed. When Canada switched to insurance that covers everyone in the 1970s, more people suddenly wanted treatment they had postponed. But this increase in demand lasted only about a year, and then demand dropped back, Earnest said.