The once recession-proof healthcare industry is now catching the economic cold. But even as more hospitals announce hiring freezes, more job seekers are flooding into the field. The balance of supply and demand of healthcare workers is finally shifting. With persistence, it can shift in your direction.

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Jeff St. Clair

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     The once recession-proof healthcare industry is now catching the economic cold. But even as more hospitals announce hiring freezes, more job seekers are flooding into the field. The balance of supply and demand of healthcare workers is finally shifting. With persistence, it can shift in your direction.
     At a recent Stark County collegiate job fair, organizers took the pulse of the economy by tracking the number of employers who showed up looking for new prospects.
     Becky Doak, who helps Mount Union College graduates find jobs, said what was most telling for her this spring were the no shows.
    "Aultman withdrew, Robinson withdrew last week and Blue Sky Therapy just didn't show up," Doak said, ticking off the list of hospitals and other healthcare groups. "They don't have jobs. Supply and demand has really changed, seriously, since Christmas."
    The steadily upward trend of health care jobs did plateau in December. But unlike many other industries, health care hasn't totally lost its ground.
      "Health care is always growing, and it doesn't have as many of the problems of layoffs that the manufacturing industry has," said Heather Huston, one of the hopefuls who joined the crowds at Kent State's Stark Campus looking for employment opportunities.
    John Thornton, head of the health care technology department at Stark State College of Technology, believes the demand for new health care workers will continue to grow despite the down economy.
    "Long-term we see a demand and a need for the graduates of our programs," Thornton said. "We see people in the community who want to enter these professions, and we don't see that number going away."
    Until recently, conventional wisdom insisted nursing was recession-proof. And, Thornton said, "there is a nursing shortage.
"We need to replace the nurses that are leaving. Hospitals are finding that the quality of care is in direct relation to how many RNs are taking care of patients. And that's why there's a shortage and why we're meeting the need."
    Schools like his are flooded with students in healthcare fields ranging from nursing to massage therapy to medical record keeping. Many are fleeing other industries. In fact, the demand has created a shortage in nursing educators.

The freeze is coming
    But there's no guarantee all the new grads will find jobs. One-third of Ohio hospitals say they're planning layoffs within the next six months, and nearly half have already implemented hiring or salary freezes. Included is the Cleveland Clinic, one of the largest employers in the state, which announced its freeze late last year.
    Joe Patrnchak, head of human resources at the Cleveland Clinic, says that every organization defines a hiring freeze differently.
    "Our definition of freeze is that we're not going to grow headcount," Patrnchak said. "We're freezing the level of headcount so that year over year we won't grow."
    But Patrnchak said that regardless of the freeze, jobs that impact bedside care remain a priority, and the Clinic will continue with strategic hires in specialty areas such as neurosurgery and geriatric medicine.
    "When we come out of this difficult time, our hope is that we'll be even stronger and more competitive," Patrnchak said.
    The Cleveland Clinic's strategy also includes a renewed emphasis on nursing care. Sarah Sinclair, the Clinic's first CEO of nursing, said as in most other fields, patience and persistence are needed when it comes to getting a job as a nurse.
    "There are positions available but they're not always the position the nurse may want," Sinclair said. "If you want to work in a particular system, go ahead and take a job, get your foot in the door and wait for that right opportunity."
    Sinclair said it's crucial for people thinking about a career in health care to spend time working in hospitals as an aide or technician in order to make sure that's really where they want to be.
    "I'm looking for people that are truly passionate about the career that they've chosen and are service-natured in terms of how they contribute to the patient's experience," Sinclair said.

Experience wanted, but not necessary
    Some of the most in-demand health care jobs are also the ones requiring the most experience. But older workers, such as Melody Bethune, find themselves competing with younger, computer-savvy job seekers fresh out of school.
    Bethune, who worked for 10 years as a medical assistant in the Hoover Company's clinic in North Canton, is having difficulty finding a new job.
    "I'm finding a lot of the managers are younger than I am," Bethune said. "It's harder to get a job when you reach a certain age. If I cannot get a job soon, I probably will go back to school again."
    There are high-demand jobs out there that don't require special education or training, such as home health aides. But the pay is low.
    Meanwhile, the supply and demand balance for nurses is tipping a bit. Many are delaying retirement because their spouses have lost their jobs.
    But in the long run, the demand for health care workers is expected to rise as baby boomers age. And ultimately, health care is one industry that cannot be outsourced.
    Doak said her advice for anyone planning on entering the health care job market, or any market for that matter, is to be creative.
    "Maybe take something that they might not have taken," Doak said. "Maybe it's not their dream job, but it's a really good experience and they can make themselves invaluable and parley up the ladder or into another job when the market gets better."

Ever thought about pursuing a dynamic career in nursing?
Learn how to get started, gather information on area nursing schools, identify financial aid options and talk to Cleveland Clinic Health System nurses at this informational session.
Doors Open 6:00 p.m. | Career Exploration 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.
For more information, visit us online at:
All are welcome | Complimentary parking and admission
Register Today!
Thursday, June 11, 2009
Lutheran Hospital Castele Learning Center
1730 West 25th Street, Cleveland

Thursday, October 22, 2009
South Pointe Hospital
20000 Harvard Road, Warrensville Heights

Resources - for job seekers

Stark State College of Technology - Health Technologies

Cleveland Clinic job site

USA JOBS website - Veterans Admin Jobs

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