Healthcare Employment on a Strong Growth Trajectory

Healthcare employment will continue to grow much faster than employment in general, with the number of jobs in home care and other ambulatory settings expected to grow by more than 40 percent by 2020, according to a new study from the Center for Health Workforce Studies (CHWS) at the State University of New York at Albany.

Recent statistics from the Department of Labor focus on an expected hiring shift away from hospitals, as the system emphasizes preventive care and fewer admissions, said Jean Moore, CHWS director.  “For a long time, acute-care services tended to trump everything else, and that seems to be changing,” Moore said.  “There’s a growing awareness that it’s penny-wise and pound-foolish not to pay attention to preventive and primary care.”

Hospitals also are expected to keep hiring — nearly one million between now and 2020 — for a growth rate of 17 percent – as baby boomers age and need more inpatient care.

Physicians’ offices and other healthcare professionals are projected to hire 1.4 million people by 2020, a 36 percent increase.  The number of home health care jobs will soar by 872,000 – that’s an 81 percent growth rate.  The total number of ambulatory-care jobs will grow by 2.7 million by 2020, or 44 percent.

According to Kaiser Health News, healthcare is projected to be a growth industry, even if the Supreme Court strikes down the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA).  “One of the things I wasn’t expecting was how much growth there was even during the recession,” Moore said.  “I would have expected some tempering of the growth.”

Although total U.S. employment declined by two percent between 2000 and 2010, healthcare employment rose 25 percent — demonstrating the sector’s expanding share of the economy.  By 2020, nearly one of every nine American jobs will be in healthcare.  When you consider that four million new health jobs will be created and people retiring from existing ones, more than seven million new workers will be needed.  That includes more than one million nurses.

According to the report, administrative healthcare jobs were cut during the economic slump from 2008 to 2010, a time when providers added nursing and other clinical positions.  Recent reports suggest that hospitals are hiring additional administrative staff to keep up with the increased regulation required by the ACA.  “They may be rehiring the people they had to let go when times were tight,” Moore said.

Healthcare employment totaled 14.19 million in October of 2011, an increase from the 13.88 million a year earlier, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.  Hospital jobs increased by 84,000 during the same time period.  Ambulatory services — physician offices, outpatient clinics and home health agencies added more than 173,000 positions.

Demand is strongest for general practitioners, nurse practitioners and physician assistants at private practices, community clinics, hospitals and long-term care facilities.  Demand also is high for physical therapists.  Some analysts predict that the shortage of physical therapists will increase as healthcare reform goes into effect.  Fewer uninsured Americans translates to a greater demand for physical therapy.  In response, medical schools are expanding and developing physical therapy training programs.

If anything, the physical therapist shortage will worsen, because in 2000, 15.6 percent were between the ages 50 and 64; 10 years later, 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 physical therapists 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 physical therapists,” said 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.”

A survey by Sullivan, Cotter and Associates, Inc., a nationally-recognized compensation and human resource management consulting firm, over the last year, nearly 75 percent of respondents reported they increased their physician staffing levels; adding an average of 12 specialists and nine primary-care physicians to their staffs.  Another 75 percent said they plan to increase their physician staffs and mid-level providers over the next year.  “These data are consistent with the labor market shift in physician employment that has been occurring over the past few years,” said Kim Mobley, practice leader for physician compensation.  “We expect this trend to continue for some time.  This shift in the labor market has resulted in what has become a highly competitive market for physicians as organizations and physicians align to provide services in a high quality, more efficient manner.”

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