Baltimore Sun, January 13, 2008
Whether you’re looking to change careers, are graduating high school or college or re-entering the workforce after raising a family, everyone always wants to know where the jobs are. While some fields are a multi-year string of being in demand – nursing, information technology and pharmacy, to name a few – there are some other areas where those with the right education and experience can land jobs quickly.
Assisting pays off
Chances are, if you’ve been to a physician, you’ve been treated by a physician assistant. Physician assistants – not to be confused with medical assistant, 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. Due to this array of skills and a health care system that is stretched to the limit, physician assistants are in high demand. “The physician assistant profession fills a recognized need in health care today for a professional trained in the medical model who can work with physician supervision to extend patient access to care and provide quality, affordable health care. In this time of increasing healthcare provider shortages and increasing numbers of uninsured and underinsured, physician assistants in the workforce help to improve access to care and provide quality care for all patients,” says A. Mary Jo Bondy, MHS, PA-C, program director for the physician assistant program at Anne Arundel Community College (AACC).
Bondy says that the certificate program at AACC, which began in 1996, “is a full-time, rigorous 25-month graduate level, competency based program. The first year provides an intense yet practical didactic curriculum geared toward primary care. In our second year, students continue with didactic study while they are in clerkships where they participate in hands-on learning in a variety of clinical settings.” All students in the program have bachelor’s degrees – typically in the sciences or a health-related field such as nursing – and have prior health care experience. Bondy adds that 90 to 95 percent of students in the program continue on to the master’s degree via an articulation with St. Francis University in Pennsylvania. Students complete their course requirements for St. Francis through online courses.
Bondy says that physician assistants find jobs in family practice, internal medicine and pediatric settings. “There have been an increasing number of graduates finding positions in emergency medicine and surgical subspecialties. We help our students find positions by affiliating with many of the outstanding medical practices and hospitals in the area and allowing our students to do elective clerkships in areas of interest. Often these experiences become employment opportunities,” says Bondy, adding that those with a master’s degree may pursue “leadership roles in research, administration, education and the scholarly work of medicine.”
No matter which avenue they decide to take, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Outlook Handbook (2006-07 edition), physician assistants rank among the fastest growing occupations, and the median annual salary for physician assistants is $69,410.
Justice – and job opportunities – for all
“When most people think of criminal justice, they think of police officers,” says Linda Fleischer, department chair for criminal justice studies at Community College of Baltimore County (CCBC). “However, they are endless other career paths one can take.” Fleischer says that CCBC offers an associate’s degree and a certificate program in criminal justice. The associate’s program is available entirely online, and both offer flexible schedules to accommodate those with full-time jobs.
“Few jobs in criminal justice require only an associate’s degree, so we have articulation agreements with several schools, including the University of Baltimore, Coppin State, Towson University and the University of Maryland, so that our students can seamlessly transfer into a four-year program,” says Fleischer. “All of our instructors have worked in the field, so students get real world knowledge,” says Fleischer, who worked in parole and probation. She says that most of the students come straight from high school; however, some students are those looking for a career change or looking to go to law school. “Our biggest challenge is the ‘CSI Syndrome,’ as we call it. Many people confuse criminal justice with forensics, which is a science-based field due to the popularity of television shows.”
Fleischer says that one of the in-demand jobs within criminal justice is that of a victim advocate. “Maryland law states that the court system must provide victim advocate services, so we’ve seen a growth in this area. Other in-demand jobs include those in juvenile services and correction officers. There are 26 correction facilities in Maryland, plus local facilities. The turnover is high in this area, so correction officers are always in demand. Also, all federal agencies, including the post office and Social Security, have a law enforcement component. There are lots of job opportunities at the federal level and most require a bachelor’s degree.” She cautions, though, those looking for a career in criminal justice to consider their behavior choices.
“There are very strict standards for law enforcement and corrections at the state and federal level. Past drug use and criminal behavior can eliminate you from consideration. Even a bad driving record or bad credit can illustrate patterns that reflect your character,” she says. Strong computer and communication skills are a must, and the ability to speak a foreign language is highly valued, Fleischer adds.
Strong outlook for administrative jobs, too
According Mary Kraft, president of Mary Kraft & Associates, who has 35 years in the staffing industry, any job in health care, especially in administrative, is in demand. “Baltimore’s large medical community and the aging baby boomer generation have resulted in an increasing need for those in health care administration. A good administrative staff can make or break a doctor’s office,” says Kraft, who notes that 50 percent of her business comes from hospitals, healthcare clinics and physician’s offices. “Having skilled people who are able to handle insurance claims and record keeping while scheduling patients is vital to the success of a physician’s office.”
Kraft says that the move to electronic records over the past few years has resulted in job opportunities for those with strong computer skills. “No one is using paper records any more, so those with strong computer skills and a knowledge of medical terminology are in high demand. Of course, you are also dealing with patients every day – many of whom are sick and tired – so strong communication and people skills are important, too,” says Kraft.
Kraft says that the employees she places in health care also are certified in the medical privacy standards set forth by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). “Having this certification on your resume will make you more marketable.” Kraft adds that medical coders – medical records and health information technicians that specialize in coding patients’ medical information for insurance purposes – also are in high demand.