Health care is experiencing unprecedented growth. Over 2.3 million new health care jobs are expected between 2014 and 2024—more than any other industry. That means 1 in 4 new jobs will be in nursing and health care. A look at how the industry is evolving, where the new occupations are, and what education and skills will be needed to fill them can help current and future health care workers prepare to take advantage of opportunities in this dynamic field.
Strong Outlook for Health Care and Nursing Jobs Over Next Decade
Between population changes, technical advances, growing health needs, and insurance reform, it’s an exciting time to be in health care. A confluence of several factors will contribute to an almost inevitable growth in the field:
- A growing population: The U.S. population will grow to approximately 359.4 million by 2030—more people means a greater need for health care services.
- An aging population: The number of people 65+ is expected to nearly double from 2014 to 2024, and older people typically have greater health care needs than younger people. Lifespans are also increasing, which puts a greater demand on health care services for the large, aging baby-boom population.
- Chronic conditions: As of 2012, about half of all adults had one or more chronic health conditions, such as such as heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes, obesity, and arthritis—additional workers will be needed to prevent, manage, and treat them.
- Medical advances: Improvements in technology and medicine, including widespread use of electronic health records (EHRs), mean more jobs for workers who have the skills to provide related health services.
- Increased emphasis on preventive care: With health care reform, more people have coverage for basic and routine care.
- Shortage of doctors: An acute physician shortage in the face of growing demand opens up job opportunities for nurses as well as physician and medical assistants.
Here’s a look at several areas showing promising opportunities as a result of these factors, along with the education, skills, or background required to enter or advance in them.
Medical assisting faces talent shortage in face of spiking demand
Medical assistant jobs are expected to grow 23% between 2014 and 2024, which is much faster than average. This holds true across health care settings; an increasing number of group practices, clinics, hospitals, and other types of health care facilities need medical assistants to complete both administrative and clinical duties as doctors will hire more medical assistants to perform routine administrative, preventive, and clinical duties.
To enter the field, most people will need to earn a medical assistant certificate. While the education requirements vary from state to state, employers may prefer to hire assistants who have completed a medical assisting program. In a state like Maine, students can prepare for the Certified Medical Assistant (CMA) examination and other related industry certifications as part of their certificate program.
Nursing remains one of the most high-growth occupations
Nursing is expected to be one of the fastest growing career areas from 2014 to 2024 and the growth spans most health care settings including hospitals, health clinics, doctor’s offices, residential care facilities, and ambulatory care settings—all of these will see an increased need for nurses.
The demand for nurse practitioners is expected to be as high as 31%. Because advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) can perform many of the same services as physicians, they’ll be needed to provide both preventive and primary care, increasingly so with confluence of a shortage of doctors and aging populace.
Furthermore, it’s not just the population of patients that’s aging—the nursing workforce itself is getting older. In fact, we can expect an exodus of nurses from the workforce as they retire at the precise time when demand for nurses is rising.
For existing RNs considering how to expand their skillset or take advantage of this opportunity, there are various paths:
- Earn a bachelor’s: RNs with a bachelor’s degree in nursing may have better job prospects, and for current RNs looking to advance their careers, a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree such as an RN-to-BSN is considered a standard requirement.
- Specialize in gerontology: Nurse practitioners specializing in geriatric care should continue to be in high demand as there will be more elderly people and they’ll be living longer.
- Teach nursing: The increased demand for nurses will bring with it an increased need for nursing instructors to educate them. A nurse educator certificate or master’s degree in nursing could help you prepare to translate your nursing experience into a teaching career.
- Pursue executive roles: Professional nurses may want to consider managerial or leadership roles in nursing. A DNP and an Executive Leader Graduate Certificate are two programs that support this career path.
Management jobs in health care expected to increase
For health care workers already working in the industry, the question is how to continue evolving your skills and experience to enhance your career outlook. Getting into management is a pathway to consider, as employment of medical and health services managers is expected to grow 17% between 2014 and 2024—much faster than average.
There are several ways to pursue a leadership career. Most medical and health services managers have at least a bachelor’s degree before entering the field; however, master’s degrees are common and sometimes preferred by employers. Degrees to consider:
- Master of Public Administration with a concentration in health care management
- Master of Public Health
- Bachelor of Science in Health Care Administration
Addictions and behavioral health counselors are needed to meet demand
Employment of substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors is projected to grow 22% from 2014 to 2024, much faster than average. Growth is expected as addiction and mental health counseling services are increasingly covered by insurance policies. Also, the number of people requiring services is going up. A recent study by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) reported that over the last 12 years, 22.5 million Americans required treatment for the abuse of alcohol and drugs. Rates for autism, one area that applied behavioral health professionals work in, are also up to 1 in 68 children.
Prepare to work in Addictions: Education programs in addictions that can help you help people recover from substance abuse and other behavioral problems:
- Graduate Certificate in Addictions
- Bachelor of Science in Psychology
- Master of Science in Psychology
Prepare to work in Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA): Programs to help you advance in a field helping people and families with behavior disorders:
- ABA Postbaccalaureate Certificate
- Autism Spectrum (ASD) Postbaccalaureate Certificate
- Bachelor of Science in Psychology
- Master of Science in Psychology
Licensing and education requirements vary from state to state; it’s important to look for an accredited education provider that is approved by National Association for Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Counselors (NAADAC) and approved by the Behavior Analyst Certification Board®, Inc. (BACB®).
Jobs surge greater in certain health care settings and states
Where you are located and what type of health setting you work in will also dictate level of job growth.
Example: Maine sees high demand for health care workers
The career opportunities in health care are even greater in certain locations across the United States. For example, in the state of Maine, health care is one of the top three industries, with 50,658 jobs in health care and social assistance (15%). Occupations in health care are among the top in-demand, high-wage occupations requiring at least a bachelor’s degree or higher. The regional share of employment in the health care (1 in 5 jobs) is significantly higher than national shares, suggesting a relative specialization. The state actually spends the fifth highest amount of any state in the U.S. on health care. And the demand for health care workers in Maine is expected to continue going up.
Many jobs will be in health practitioner offices and hospitals
Physician’s offices: Between 2014 and 2024, jobs in offices of health practitioners are projected to grow by 25%. Types of occupations commonly employed in these settings include the following (though the job level and ways to get there will vary, we’ve included a link to education programs related to that career path.)
- Medical assistants (certificate)
- Nurses (ASN, BSN, MSN, or DNP)
- Medical secretaries (certificate)
- Billing clerks (certificate)
- Dental assistants (diploma)
Hospitals: By 2024 it is expected that more than one third of all health care jobs will be in hospitals—more than any other setting. Occupations in hospitals include the following:
- Nurses (ASN, BSN, MSN, or DNP)
- Medical and health services managers (bachelor’s or master’s)
- Medical assistants (certificate)
- Medical records technicians (certificate)
- Health information professionals (bachelor’s/HIM or master’s degree in health information management or health informatics)
Health care isn’t just growing, it’s changing—and fast
The workforce system as a whole is experiencing seismic shifts, and the reverberations can be felt in health care. As explained in a UBS study, the entire work landscape will go through “a period of radical and transformative disruption in the decade ahead as the impact of a new industrial revolution, driven by further advances in digital technology, is felt.”
Technology drives opportunity; creates new specialties
Within health care, this means new opportunities, as medical and technological advances—for example, telemedicine/telehealth, wearable health tracking devices, centralized medical software, and improved medical analysis—alter the face of the industry. With that comes a heightened need for health care professionals who possess the knowledge, skills, and education to use and incorporate the latest technologies.
The field of health care IT is growing rapidly, even more so since the passage of the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act in 2009 placed a greater emphasis on electronic medical records (EMR) and electronic health records (EHR). Entire new technology-driven specialties have emerged, such as health informatics, health information management, information security, and records management.
A blend of technical and soft skills proves a winning combination
But it’s not just about the technology. While technology is revolutionizing the industry, it won’t replace the need for qualified health services professionals. A shifting labor market means automation is taking over more routine and manual tasks, placing a greater demand on jobs that humans excel at and are required for, including nonroutine interpersonal and analytical jobs. Because health care-related jobs often require personal interaction, they are more difficult to outsource or replace with automation.
This means developing your soft skills is more important than ever. While workers will need the education, training, related licensing, and experience to deliver health services, employers say it’s not only about technical or clinical experience. You also need good people skills and the ability to be patient, caring, and compassionate. To maximize career outcomes, look for health care education programs that include an emphasis on the following areas:
- Team building
- Ethics and professionalism
Sources used in this article, and resources for your future research:
Health Care Job Growth: U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Health Care Occupations, www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/home.htm.
Size of Population: U.S. Census Bureau, Projections of the Size and Composition of the U.S. Population: 2014 to 2060, March 2015, www.census.gov/content/dam/Census/library/publications/2015/demo/p25-1143.pdf
Aging Population: U.S. Census Bureau, Fueled by Aging Baby Boomers, Nation's Older Population to Nearly Double in the Next 20 Years, Census Bureau Reports, May 6, 2014, www.census.gov/newsroom/press-releases/2014/cb14-84.html
Chronic Conditions: Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Chronic Disease Overview, www.cdc.gov/chronicdisease/overview/
Doctor Shortage: Association of American Medical Colleges, The Complexities of Physician Supply and Demand: Projections from 2014 to 2025, 2016 update, www.aamc.org/download/458082/data/2016_complexities_of_supply_and_demand_projections.pdf
Medical Assistants: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016–17 Edition, Medical Assistants, www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/medical-assistants.htm
Nursing Demand: U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Registered Nurses, www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/registered-nurses.htm,
Nurse Practitioner Demand: U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Nurse Anesthetists, Nurse Midwives, and Nurse Practitioners, www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/nurse-anesthetists-nurse-midwives-and-nurse-practitioners.htm
Geriatric Nurses: American Association of Colleges of Nursing, Nursing Shortage, www.aacn.nche.edu/media-relations/fact-sheets/nursing-shortage
Nurse Educators: U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment and Wages, Nursing Instructors and Teachers, Postsecondary, www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes251072.htm
Medical and Health Services Managers: U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Medical and Health Services Managers, www.bls.gov/ooh/management/medical-and-health-services-managers.htm
Substance Abuse and Behavioral Disorder Counselors: U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Substance Abuse and Behavioral Disorder Counselors, www.bls.gov/ooh/community-and-social-service/substance-abuse-and-behavioral-disorder-counselors.htm
Autism Rates: Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) Data & Statistics, www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism/data.html
Maine Study: A Labor Market and Workforce Profile of the Coastal Counties Workforce Investment Region, The Maine Center for Business and Economic Research University of Southern Maine, Portland, December 2015, www.coastalcounties.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/2016-Labor-Market-Workforce-Profile.pdf
Demand in Maine: Maine Workforce Outlook: 2014 to 2024, Center for Workforce Research, Maine Department of Labor, www.documentcloud.org/documents/3106624-2024-Outlook.html
Health Care Settings: Center for Health Workforce Studies, School of Public Health, University of Albany, State University of New York, Health Care Employment Projections, 2014-2024: An Analysis of Bureau of Labor Statistics Projections by Setting and by Occupation, April 2016, www.chwsny.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/BLS-Health-Care-Employment-Projections_2016.pdf
UBS Workforce Study: Workforce Futures, foresight.ubs.com/media/8381/ubs_workforce-futures_2016_4.pdf
Automation: Liquid Workforce: Building the Workforce for Today’s Digital Demands, Accenture, www.accenture.com/fr-fr/_acnmedia/PDF-2/Accenture-Liquid-Workforce-Technology-Vision-2016-france.pdf
Demand on Jobs Humans Excel at: OECD Skills Outlook 2013, https://www.oecd.org/skills/piaac/Skills%20volume%201%20(eng)--full%20v12--eBook%20(04%2011%202013).pdf