Healthcare workers in demand

A look at local opportunities from the ground up

As baby boomers age, there will be more job opportunities in healthcare in Central Florida.  Nurses likely will continue to be in demand, and local schools are offering the training needed.  “Students seek our Nursing Program because they know it will give them more than just a degree.  It will give them results and credibility when they enter the workforce,”says Dr. Patricia Harrison Jones, district dean of Academic Affairs at Polk State College in Winter Haven.

The college’s nursing program usually has 150 applicants for each class of 100 seats.  “The best placement opportunities are built right into our programs in the form of clinical experiences.  All of our Health Sciences students complete on-the-job training, which can serve as an extended job interview,” Dr. Jones adds.

Healthcare services is one of six target industries promoted by the Central Florida Development Council (CFDC), meaning more projected service providers and medical device manufacturers here in the future.  “The aging population will drive more opportunities in our region, so we expect Healthcare Services to continue to be an industry where we can facilitate new job creation and additional capital investment,” says David Petr, CFDC’s president and chief executive officer.  “Partners of the CFDC, including Polk State College and Florida Southern College, educate and train young professionals who gain employment quickly in our area.”

Major employers include Lakeland Regional Medical Center, Bartow Regional Medical Center, Heart of Florida Regional Medical Center, and Winter Haven Hospital, along with clinics.  “We need registered nurses to work on the Medical/Surgical Unit, Progressive Care Unit, Intensive Care Unit, Emergency Department and in Surgery.  We also need LPNs [licensed practical nurses] to work in a physician’s practice,” says Susan Sartain, director of marketing and public relations for Bartow Regional Medical Center.

The Ground Floor and Up
No one wants to invest thousands of dollars, or go into debt, to earn a degree where there aren’t enough jobs.  That’s why programs offering solid internships or practicum experience can be especially helpful.  “The whole point of an internship is to introduce you to a company that hopefully will offer you a position,” says David Sandow, branch manager of Lakelands’s Spherion Staffing.

Do your homework ahead of time.  “Make sure you get a degree that is in demand,” he says.  “Get the proper experience under your belt, if you can, while you’re in school.”

Look for accredited schools.  Avoid diploma mills.  Watch out for the words “your credit is approved,” he warns.  “You don’t need to be there.”

You can begin preparing for a healthcare career in high school.  Students should consult guidance counselors about how to receive college credit early.

At Ridge Career Center, there are career tracks for a number of health professions including message therapy, nursing assistant, patient care technician, and pharmacy technician.  In addition to high school courses, Ridge Career Center also offers adult instruction,including job preparation programs that can be completed in a year or less.  Graduates may need to pass a licensing or national certification exam.  “We are fortunate that we have employers calling here asking us for students, for graduates,” says Jan DuCharme, the center’s senior coordinator for health science education.  “Instructors often times direct students to where jobs might be.”

There is limited seating, but most are able to secure a place if they plan ahead and meet program requirements.  DuCharme suggests contacting the school two months ahead of time.

Dual enrollment and accelerated courses integrate Polk’s pubic schools with Polk State College.  “We’re striving to build very strong career pathways for students that are interested in health science,” says Naomi Boyer, Polk State’s assistant vice president for strategic initiatives.  “We also keep a very close eye on the number of students we put out in the workplace so we don’t oversaturate.”

At Polk State, there are choices within the nursing sector, including the registered nursing to Bachelor of Science (BSN) track.  “There is a huge push in the healthcare industry to hire BSN nurses.  The largest hospitals in our local area require their nurses to have a BSN,” Dr. Jones explains.  “Eventually, the BSN may become essential for employment.  Right now, any Registered Nurse who wants to advance, especially into management, should get the BSN.”

Another attractive option is the nursing practitioner, who needs a master’s degree.  “The demand for nurse practitioners will grow by 27 percent through 2021 and the average salary in Florida is $87,000, according to the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity (FDEO),” Dr. Jones says.  After earning an associate’s or BSN, graduates “can go on to study anywhere they choose,” she continues.

In addition to service jobs, there also is a need for teachers.  Dr. Ulyee Choe, director of Florida Department of Health in Polk County and a Polk County Medical Association member, is currently working to mentor and train new doctorsas an assistant professor at University of South Florida’s Morsani College of Medicine, Division of Infectious Diseases and International Medicine.  He also serves as a preceptor/liaison for Yeungnam Medical School in South Korea, whose students visit the United States to learn how medicine is practiced here.

“One of the most important parts of teaching is research.  We use evidence-based medicine to ensure we are implementing the most effective practices,” Dr. Choe elaborates.

Furthermore, Dr. Choe points out that sharing knowledge is part of the Hippocratic Oath.  “As a mentor, it is my responsibility to pass this knowledge on to others working to become a physician.  I’d like to continue this practice,” he explains.  He enjoys working with eager students.  “I love the nuance and science of medicine.  More importantly, I love the human component of medicine,” he says.  “The need to connect with people is what separates a physician from a scientist.”

Landing the Job
Anyone in need of job counseling can contact CareerPolk, which administers public funds to help the unemployed receive training.  “We’re a nonprofit that works to connect employers and job seekers,”explains Marybeth Soderstrom, the organization’s community outreach coordinator.  “All of our services to job seekers and employers are all offered at no cost.”  CareerPolk can help those entering or re-entering the job market, or transitioning to new careers, to create a career plan.  “If they have received no formal training and they can’t find a position, then we’re going to be able to send them to training,” she says.  Currently, 39 percent of those receiving assistance are seeking medical careers.

State employment statistics can help you hone in on the job of your choice.  For example, in Polk County there are 11 annual openings for Medical Records and Health Information Technicians, compared with 887 for medical secretaries and 498 for massage therapists, according to the 2014-15 Regional Demand Occupations List.  In 2013, starting pay for medical records personnel was $12.31 per hour, with a mean wage of $19.01.  Starting salaries were $11.63 per hour, with a mean salary of $14.55, for medical secretaries.  Massage therapists earned $11.02 to start, but mean hourly wages were $18.53.

There are 202 openings for registered nurses (RNs) and 88 positions for LPNs and Licensed Vocational Nurses (LVN), the list shows.  Earnings for RNs started at $24.38 hourly in 2013, with mean wages of $29.14.  LPNs and LVNs started at $15.42 hourly in 2013, with mean wages of $18.45, shows the list based on FDEO’s Bureau of Labor Market statistics.

Physical therapist assistants, meanwhile, earned $21.40 to start in 2013, and a mean wage of $28 hourly.  There are 242 openings, the report shows.  There also is a demand for Cardiovascular Technologists and Technicians, with 255 positions annually and for dispensing opticians, with 158 openings.  Fewer jobs are available in respiratory therapy: 10; radiologic technology: 14; dental hygiene: 16; dental assistant: 19; and medical equipment repair: 20.

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portrait by PEZZIMENTI

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