Health-care professionals have played a critical role throughout the ongoing coronavirus pandemic as new demands emerged for respiratory therapists, telehealth specialists and other experts to help fight the virus. This crisis has also caused unprecedented strain on our mental and physical health, reminding us of the importance of taking care of ourselves, and the medical professionals who help us do so.
Demand for health care professionals isn't expected to slow down any time soon. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment in the health-care field is projected to grow 16% over the next decade. Health care will add about 2.6 million new jobs to the economy, the most of any other field. This growth, the BLS notes, is mainly due to an aging population that will have a greater need for health-care services.
The pandemic, however, has also led to new demand for certain positions. "The Covid-19 pandemic has really exacerbated challenges for recruiting and hiring front end staff," Lea Tal, CEO of health-care recruiting firm TAL Healthcare, tells CNBC Make It. "These are the people who are working in offices as aides, assistants or taking your blood, for example, and they're usually earning only about $20 an hour."
Nurse practitioners, occupational therapy assistants and physical therapy assistants top the list for the fastest growing health-care jobs of the next decade, with home health and personal care aides following close behind.
"A lot of people had to figure out how to take care of their health at home or virtually during the pandemic, either because they didn't feel comfortable going to a hospital or access to the hospital was limited," Lisa O'Connor, a senior managing director in Health Solutions at FTI Consulting, says. "Even post-pandemic we'll continue to see a lot of health care moving into the home area."
Bureau of Labor Statistics Division Chief Michael Wolf clarifies that physical therapist assistants and physical therapist aides have separate, distinct roles: assistants are actively involved in providing care to patients, while aides are not involved in providing care, instead focusing on administrative tasks like setting up equipment and completing office paperwork.
In addition to the pandemic, an aging population and a renewed focus on preventative care will make these jobs more popular. According to data from the U.S. Census Bureau, the number of older Americans is projected to increase by almost 18 million over the next 10 years as the last of the baby boomers turn 65. "Health care is focused on keeping people well, especially as a large portion of the population ages," Tal says. "That means we need more people like genetic counselors and phlebotomists to perform assessments on patients to determine how we can keep someone healthy longer."
O'Connor notes that the health-care industry faces several challenges on its path to growth including staffing shortages and medical licensing. Many of the fastest-growing positions don't require a bachelor's degree, but they do require certain coursework or certificates in science, technology or medicine. "There are tremendous challenges, including nursing staffing, as many are choosing to leave the field post-pandemic or retire sooner," she says. "People in health care are tired, they're looking for a little break from these roles."
She continues: "There are also unique licensure requirements in health care, whether you're a nurse, a physician or a pharmacist, that create limitations to the scope of what people can do. They're not standard state to state, either, which creates its own challenge."
Still, O'Connor, who is a nurse herself, adds that there is no better time to work in health care. "When you work in health care, you have the rare opportunity to make a difference in someone's life every single day that you show up," she says. "Although the period we're in right now is challenging, there's so much reward in taking care of others, and the way we approach health care is rapidly evolving alongside technology — so if you're a person who's interested in being challenged and making a difference in people's lives, then health care is the place for you."