Greg Alexander

Job seekers have endless opportunities in health care

Baltimore Sun, February 17, 2008

In these uncertain economic times, it may be frightening to consider switching careers or going to college to begin a new career; however, there are certain jobs that insiders say are “recession proof,” most of which are in health care. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, almost half the 30 fastest growing occupations are concentrated in health services. And while the critical nursing shortage garners a lot of headlines – and rightfully so – there are other fields that are experiencing significant shortages and, hence, provide great opportunities for job growth.

One of the areas experiencing major shortages is respiratory therapy, says Lois Simmons, director of the office of selective admissions for the school of health professions at the Community College of Baltimore County (CCBC). “We have huge shortages in the Baltimore area; in fact, many hospitals come to us to train their employees on campus,” says Simmons. Respiratory therapists attend to those who suffer from pulmonary conditions –asthma, emphysema and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), a lung disease in which the lung is damaged – in addition to assisting patients requiring respiratory assistance in the hospital. Simmons says that one of the main reasons for the demand for respiratory therapists is the rise of children suffering from asthma, and that respiratory therapists are needed in all areas of care – from premature babies to geriatric care. She notes that while a four-year bachelor of science degree in respiratory therapy is offered at schools like Salisbury State University, most in the field complete an associate degree program.

“For entry-level respiratory therapy care jobs, an associate’s degree is the norm, but some go onto to Towson University and earn a bachelor’s degree in technical and professional studies with an emphasis on respiratory therapy in order to apply for education, management and research jobs in the field,” says Carol Eustis, academic dean for the school of health professions at CCBC. Eustis adds that the school of health professions at CCBC provides the third-largest percentage of health care education in the state. Sharon Pierce, chair of the health sciences division at Howard Community College, says that as the population ages, more and more respiratory therapists are needed. “The shortages are alarming; it’s just as critical as the nursing shortage in Maryland.”

Pierce says that another job experiencing significant growth is that of the radiographers, who primarily perform X-rays. Pierce says that there is a huge shortage of this field, especially at the entry-level jobs, as more employed in the field go on to specialize in certain areas, such as computed tomography (CT), Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRIs) or mammography, creating voids at the entry-level position. CCBC’s Simmons adds that mammographers are in high demand, as the pool of those who are qualified is small. “Everyone knows that it takes months to get an appointment,” she says.

For those who already possess a bachelor’s degree, especially in the sciences or a health-related field, the job of a physician assistant is one in great demand. Physician assistants – not to be confused with medical assistants, who focus more on routine clinical and clerical tasks – practice medicine under the supervision of physicians and surgeons and typically examine and treat patients, take medical histories, order tests and X-rays, make diagnoses, treat minor injuries and prescribe medications. “The shortage of physician assistants ties into the shortage of physicians in the country. We get 300 applicants a year for the program,” says Marcie Weinstein, Ph.D., associate dean of the college of health professions at Towson University. “Physician assistants can work in primary care physicians’ offices, outpatient care, trauma, pediatrics, surgical wards, emergency departments … you name it.” CCBC’s Eustis adds that through a dual-enrollment program with CCBC and Towson, students can earn a master’s of science degree and a certificate as a physician assistant within 26 months.

Howard Community College’s Pierce says that another area she sees great job opportunities in is for medical lab technicians. “There are large projected shortages in this field, as medical lab techs are needed in many different arenas, including hospitals and external labs,” she says. Simmons, whose background is in the field, concurs. “There are huge shortages in this field, and we’ve worked with area hospitals to develop a program to help address this,” says Simmons, who notes that a $2.6 million grant from the Department of Labor helped develop the program. “We also just started offering online courses in this field. Students will still have to fulfill their clinical work at a hospital, but for a student in Allegany County, for example, he or she can take online courses through us and do the clinical work close to home.” She adds that the grant also helped develop a dental hygiene program beginning this fall that includes a new dental clinic in Dundalk that will not only provide a facility for students to do clinical training but will also be a health resource for the Dundalk community.

A direct result of the aging baby boomer generation, says Towson’s Weinstein, is the increase in need for occupational therapists, who help patients improve their ability to perform tasks in their daily living and working environments and work with patients who are suffering from conditions that are mentally, physically or developmentally disabling. “My clinical background is in occupational therapy, and people are needed in all areas – med/surg, psychiatric, developmental and at-risk populations,” says Weinstein, who notes that a master’s degree is necessary for this field, and Towson has a program where students who go year-round can earn a bachelor’s and master’s in five years. Eustis of CCBC, meanwhile, says that occupational therapy assistants are also in demand, and students in the school’s program land jobs before they graduate.

For salary information on these and other health care jobs, check out the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Outlook Handbook (2008-09 edition) at

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