BRIGHT PROGNOSIS FOR HEALTH CAREERS
by FLORENCE ISAACS
Why did a registered nurse with 28 years of experience choose such a high-tech job? Carnevale, formerly a pediatrics intensive care nurse, explains it this way: "Working in the informatics field allows me to utilize both my clinical and computer experience."
When she learned about the master's degree program in nursing informatics at UMDNJ's School of Nursing, it seemed like a logical next step for her. Carnevale, 53, who graduated in May 2000, says she's very happy with her decision. Despite attractive job offers from hospitals, she opted for consulting. "It allows the scheduling flexibility that I want at this time in my life," she comments.
Nursing informatics is just one new option in the healthcare field, which provides 11.2 million jobs in this country and will account for approximately 14 percent of jobs created between 1998 and 2008, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. "Health care is a growth industry for careers. There are tremendous opportunities in a wide range of areas, including many that are not well known," says David Gibson, EdD, dean of the UMDNJ-School of Health Related Professions (SHRP). In fact, some careers, such as Carnevale's, didn't even exist 10 years ago.
What's Fueling Growth?
Many chronically ill and elderly patients who would have died years ago are surviving today, but they require the services of therapists and other longterm-care specialists.
Other factors contribute to job growth as well. Consumers want more choice in health care. Increased numbers of Americans (more than 40 percent) use some form of alternative and complementary medicine in addition to traditional medicine. Less invasive surgical treatments have led more patients to seek these services.
"Continued political and social pressure for universal healthcare coverage and a renewed interest in research also drive growth. Both Congress and the president have committed to double the funding for the National Institutes of Health (NIH)," notes Gibson.
Key Hot Spots
Due to rising demand for personnel, jobs in many health-related professions will jump by 30 percent or more between 1998 and 2008. Among the specialists in greatest demand are physical and respiratory therapists, physician assistants, medical and dental assistants, dental hygienists, surgical technologists and emergency medical technicians and paramedics. Prerequisites for admission into training programs for these jobs and the number of years of education required for certification to practice vary widely.
SHRP - with 37 programs on four campuses throughout the state - conducts preparatory programs for all of these specialties.
Starting salaries often reflect length of education and can range from $16 an hour for dental or medical assistants up to $65,000 a year for physician assistants. "Right now hospitals are begging for and even offering to pay the tuition for UMDNJ-trained surgical technologists and vascular technologists. Respiratory therapists are being snapped up. Dental hygienists and emergency medical technicians have no problem getting jobs, and demand is high for dental assistants," says Gibson. Vascular technologists principally use ultrasound to examine patients for detection of diseases of the veins and arteries.
The marketplace isn't always predictable, however. In the mid-'90s, for example, some respiratory therapy graduates couldn't find jobs in New Jersey, but found employment in Maryland and Delaware. Physical therapy, sizzling a few years ago, has cooled somewhat due to managed care reimbursement policies. Jobs are still available, but not before graduation as they used to be, according to the SHRP dean. "There are signs the market may now be picking up again," Gibson says.
The Outlook For Nurses
Demand for nurses is cyclical, and just a few years ago, there was an oversupply of registered nurses (RNs). But the landscape has changed dramatically. Today there is a major shortage in specialty areas, such as critical care, according to Frances Quinless, RN, PhD, dean of the UMDNJ-School of Nursing (SN). The school educates RNs at the undergraduate level, offering associate and baccalaureate degrees jointly with several New Jersey colleges, and offers a number of graduate programs as well.
On the graduate level, one area that is poised to boom is Jean Carnevale's, nursing informatics. The joint program with New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) instructs RNs in programming, software and hardware skills. Applicants must be RNs with a baccalaureate degree.
"Medical records are becoming electronic records. Telemedicine is here - and we need people in nursing who can deal with these technologies. Nurses are the interface between patients, families, other health professionals and the health system generally,"explains Quinless. Nursing informatics is the most popular major among those entering the school this fall. Applicants need not be programming experts; only basic knowledge is required. Graduates earn a Masters of Science in Nursing degree. The program generally takes four months of full-time study to complete. Most courses are offered in the evening; the majority of students attend on a part-time basis.
Also sought after, due in part to the rapid growth of same-day surgery, is the graduate level nurse anesthetist. SN's program in Camden is the only one of its kind in New Jersey. "We take only 10 students annually, and they are getting job offers prior to graduation," comments Quinless. Applicants must be RNs, have critical care backgrounds, and demonstrate decision- making and patient-management ability.
The main focus of UMDNJ's School of Nursing, however, is the preparation of nurse practitioners. The school offers graduate level programs for adult, psychiatric mental health, occupational health, women's health and family nurse practitioners. Jobs are available for the latter, who act as primary care providers, just as family practice doctors do. Nurse practitioners are recognized as primary care providers in the managed care system.
Starting salaries for RNs in New Jersey range from $42,000 to $45,000. Graduate degrees pay off in bigger paychecks. Beginning informatics nurses and nurse practitioners can earn about $65,000 a year. At the top are nurse anesthetists, whose annual salaries are in the $90,000 to $100,000 range.
Other High-Growth Health Careers
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, employment will also increase 30 percent or more between 1998 and 2008 for many other health industry occupations, including physicians, social workers, occupational therapists, speech language pathologists and audiologists, personal care and home health aides, medical records and health information technicians, and health service managers. Opportunities abound: There are jobs to suit many personality types. For those who like detail and are extremely patient and meticulous, clinical lab science may fill the bill.
Take Eileen Lintao, 25, a 1998 graduate of the UMDNJ-SHRP. She became a medical technologist because she prefers hands-on lab work, rather than heavy patient contact. Eileen types blood cells to determine whether donor organs are compatible with transplant recipients. She's employed in the laboratory of the New Jersey Organ and Tissue Sharing Network in Springfield. "It's great to know that a person who has been waiting years for a kidney or liver has finally gotten one," says Eileen. "I feel I'm making an important contribution."
On the other hand, a physical therapist or physician's assistant often gets great satisfaction from working closely with people. And for those interested in studying psycho- social science with a focus on treating the mentally ill, SHRP offers associate degrees, bachelor's, master's and doctoral programs in the psychosocial and rehabilitation sciences.
"There are some short-term blips on the job screen, but in the long run, the health professions offer a phenomenal range of solid opportunities," says Gibson.
TALE OF A HAPPY MAN
Ask James ("Jimmy") Voorhees, 32, why he became a physical therapist and he'll talk about making a difference. He'll mention the woman with suspected Lou Gehrig's disease, for example. As she awaited final test results, Jimmy worked with her to improve walking and other functions. Together, they researched her condition so that she knew what to expect down the road, and explored adaptations like a motorized wheelchair which could conserve her energy.
"When the diagnosis was confirmed in November, 1999, she told me it was easier to accept because she already understood some of her potential," he recalls.
Voorhees helped her make a plan that would enable her to remain as independent as possible. Because she wanted to keep her job at a hospital, she decided to buy a specially-equipped van to get to work. Due to stairs in her home that limited mobility, she chose to move. "She's still working today," Jimmy notes proudly.
"What drew me to physical therapy was the idea of working with people and helping to better someone's life," explains Voohees, who graduated from the School of Health Related Professions in 1998 with a master's degree in physical therapy. Although he could have worked in a hospital or a large rehabilitation center, he opted for a community-based private practice of seven full-time physical therapists in Jersey City. Here, he handles a spectrum of orthopedic, neurological and pediatric cases. "We cater to a large mix of races, religions, ethnic and socioeconomic groups," says Voorhees.
Another memorable patient was a young boy from Central America. During disastrous hurricanes in his country, the boy lost his entire family; his own arm was seriously injured by flying debris. Taken in by an aunt in New Jersey, he faced multiple surgeries and needed therapy to stretch tight arm muscles and increase his range of motion. But the boy had no insurance. Jimmy reported the problem to his boss, who arranged for the therapy to be provided free of charge.
How does Voorhees feel about his career? "I absolutely love it!" he responds. But then, he always knew he would, and he pursued it single-mindedly. It took him five years to get accepted into the UMDNJ physical therapy program. After each rejection, he simply reapplied.
In fact, the physical therapist now likes his work so much that he holds more than one job. He spends 10 hours a week in the Jersey City public school system. The lure is helping kids, like one little boy with Down's syndrome whom he worked with to become more independent at school. Walking down the halls without supervision and negotiating stairs without falling is taken for granted by most youngsters. But for this child, they became major goals that were reached with Jimmy's help.
Says Voorhees, "I'm very happy with what I do. I see myself staying where I am, growing as the practice grows and actively participating in the whole process. This is what I was always looking for."
SHRP PROFESSIONS IN HOT DEMAND
The magazine of the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey