The nursing shortage is nothing new. Projections about an aging population and a limited number of graduates entering the workforce each year make the rounds of the headlines each month. Unfortunately, the doom and gloom doesn’t end there. Many of the other professionals that work alongside nurses are also in short supply. The good news, quite simply, is that the job market is great for anyone certified in an allied health profession.
According to Gil Colorina, Recruitment Supervisor for California Pacific Medical Center, after nursing the greatest need is for people trained in the radiology sciences. Referred to as ‘radtechs,’ these people are able to assist with all the different scanning and x-ray procedures—including CAT scans, ultrasounds, and MRIs. Another area experiencing a shortage is the clinical laboratory. All the blood tests that take place on a daily basis in every hospital require skilled technicians to carefully administer the right solutions in order to ensure accurate results. So many decisions about an individual’s diagnosis and treatment are made based on lab tests that this is one of the jobs that can have a huge impact on a person’s health. These shortages are in addition to the equally important need for physical and respiratory therapists.
The missing gap of employees for these positions can be explained at both the macro and micro level. In terms of the big picture, the evolving nature of health care results in a workforce that is continually behind the growth curve. All of the high tech health care that has come on the scene means more advanced training is required. Another reason for the shortage, however, is that many qualified people don’t think about this as a career option. Nancy Richardson, Recruiter for St. Mary’s Medical Center in San Francisco, says that a challenge for most hospitals is to better communicate the huge array of choices in health care to high school students. Most of us have heard of a respiratory therapist, but a radtech? Or a clinical lab scientist? These are such new and unfamiliar job titles that many smart, detail-oriented people—who would be well-suited for these jobs—don’t realize these career choices are out there.
To become a radtech a person typically must complete a two-year associate degree to attain certification. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 182,000 radtechs in the country as of 2004. Approximately half of them find employment in hospitals, while the rest are spread throughout doctors offices and diagnostic centers. Clinical lab scientists have similar requirements and job prospects, but can find employment in more varied health care settings, such as non-profit clinics.
A common misconception about allied health professions is that they don’t provide the same emotional payoff as jobs with more direct patient contact. Richardson is quick to point out that this is completely untrue. She brings up the example of people who work transporting patients from one part of the hospital to another. According to Richardson, they play a huge role in setting that person’s mind at ease at some of the most crucial moments of both their hospital stay and, quite possibly, their entire life—such as just before they are wheeled into surgery. Transporters have to be adept at addressing the questions and worries of family members waiting during the procedure for what, to them, might seem like an unbearably long time.
For any role in health care, Richardson says it helps to think about it from the point of view of the patient. The entire time they are thinking ‘I don’t know these people, but I have to trust that they are going to take care of me.’ This is where any hospital job becomes one centered around the principle of compassion. “Just because you aren’t in a clinical role doesn’t mean you aren’t helping people,” says Richardson.
Another part of the allied health world that most people don’t think about is the intellectual enjoyment that comes from an industry that is always changing. As Richardson says, “Technology, particularly medical technology, is growing and improving exponentially, and that is something wonderful to see. The overall improvement in capability, efficiency and reliability in health care enables us to offer more services to our patients.”
Richardson says her experience at St. Mary's Medical Center has showed her who will do well in this field. “I talk to people who have had an experience with a sick family member and are interested in going into health care because of it. That is very different than the people who hear radtechs start at $35 an hour and are in it for the salary.” For those thinking about going into health care as a career, she sums it up by saying, “It is a realization about what is important. Look at the industry, the company and find out what their mission is. If the values they represent are important to you, you’ll be more likely to be successful and happy.”