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Health on the Hill, Multimedia Stories

KU students step up to meet demand for educated health care workforce

Liz Marsh could complete a two-year nursing program to get the job she wants, but instead she’s working toward a four-year degree for the same position.

Marsh, a sophomore from Chanute, could have the job after this year had she chosen the first route, however, the national trend shows that it’s almost inevitable she would have to go back to school. While she won’t struggle to get a nursing job when she graduates, having her Bachelor of Science in Nursing will prepare her for the new demands of health care workers.

According to a report from Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce, the health care field needs more qualified, educated workers by 2020 to meet a new demand. In 2010 the demand for postsecondary education to work in health care was 81 percent, and will increase slightly to 82 percent by 2020. Of professional and technical occupations, 94 percent will need to have postsecondary education and training in the field.

Marsh said she already sees this demand taking effect in her hometown.

“In Chanute, all of the nurses are required to get a BSN now, so everybody has to go back to school, which is insane,” Marsh said. “My friend’s mom is a nurse and she has 20 years of experience and they’re still probably going to make her go back to school.”

Even with the expected 26 percent increase in the nursing workforce, it’s likely that there will be 800,000 less nurses than will meet the demand, according to the study.

Debra Ford, associate dean of student affairs in the KU School of Nursing, said for the past several years, the School of Nursing has had more applicants than it has space in classes, making the program more competitive than ever.

“The demand for nurses has been high for the past five to seven years or so,” Ford said. “I think that all students are interested in careers that have a solid demand for graduates, and nursing is one of those fields.”

Though health care occupations will expand by three millions jobs from 2010 to 2020 according to the study, the increase doesn’t come close to meeting the expected 5.6 million health care job vacancies.

A study published in “Annals of Family Medicine” last month found that the increase in doctors would not meet the expected demand either. By 2025, the U.S. will be short of 52,000 primary care doctors. The researchers estimated that in 2008 Americans made 465 million office visits to primary care doctors, and they say that number will rise to 565 million office visits by 2025. The health care field will need a 3 percent increase in the number of current family doctors to meet this demand.

Jessica Hampton, a medical assistant at Lawrence Family Practice Center, said she knows the practice has focused on hiring more doctors rather than nurse practitioners or physician assistants. Hampton is an uncertified medical assistant and she said that medical assistant programs are not worth the money some people pay for them.

“Some of those programs I think they just rip people off to make more money,” Hampton said. “And they spend a lot of money on it. You could have gone to KU for four years for what you paid for that, and they go to some unaccredited school.”

Health care support occupations are typically “low-skill, low-wage” jobs according to the Georgetown study. Around 70 percent of health care support workers earn less than $30,000. By 2020, 54 percent of support occupations will require at least some postsecondary education, but with the workers’ income and rising student loan debt, pursuing further education might not be affordable.

Whether health care workers pursue the new secondary education requirements could be a deciding factor in the success of the future health care system. Hampton reflects the trend. She graduated from KU with a degree in biology. She planned to go to medical school, but now she’s applying to physician assistant programs.

“I wanted to apply to med school, but then I decided that it was too much time and stress and work,” Hampton said. “At that point, I realized in the PA profession there are job openings, and you make close to the same amount of money.”

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In the next decade, the health care field will add more than three million jobs to meet the demand necessary to care for the growing, aging population. Registered nurses are the most in-demand workers by a long shot. By 2016, the health care field will employ a total of three million nurses, according to AllHealthcare, a division of monster.com dedicated to the search for health care jobs.

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