She recently began participating in the hospital system’s training program to become an intensive-care nurse, a specialization that would bring her back to bedside work.
“Compared to all the other careers I dabbled in, health care is the one where you can not only move vertically but laterally,” Santo Domingo said.
In addition to the new jobs it created last year, Inova hired about 3,500 workers in anticipation of forthcoming retirements or to backfill vacated positions. The total of 4,501 new hires is more than the company has ever had in a single year.
As Inova looks to attract talent, the hospital system has found it can be especially difficult to find candidates for specialized roles such as operating-room nurses or neonatal intensive-care nurses.
To keep up with demand for these and other positions, the company is taking on more new graduates such as Santo Domingo and devoting more resources to training.
Obstacles to hiring
MedStar Washington Hospital Center is another institution that has been forced to build a talent pipeline from within as heightened demand for health-care workers made experienced ones hard to find.
Dennis Hoban, the senior director of recruitment services, said a lack of “talent mobility” has presented a key obstacle to hiring.
Because of the Washington region’s relatively high housing prices and cost of living, “attempting to hire people from outside the area can be particularly difficult with sticker shock,” he said.
Some smaller companies such as home health-care agencies are also growing their payrolls, a move that will equip them to serve the rising tide of aging adults seeking care. Hughesville-based Chesapeake-Potomac Home Health Agency said it has six job openings for clinicians. The small agency employs only 76 people, but it is looking to hire workers to help deal with an increased volume of patients. It recently added evening hours, which creates the need for more nurses and home health aides.
From November 2011 to November 2012, the education and health services sector added 11,300 jobs in the region, compared with 10,400 in professional services and 6,700 in government. The federal government, a subcategory of government, lost 4,200 jobs during the same period, meaning that overall growth came from state- and municipal-level positions. The Labor Department combines education and health services jobs into one category in its employment data, but economists say that health-care jobs account for the majority of recent hires in this group.
Although the health-care sector played a critical role in the region’s job growth in 2012, it’s uncertain whether it will continue to be as central this year.
If the economic recovery gains more traction and if clarity is achieved on the federal budget, economists say, hiring could pick up significantly in the Washington area’s professional services industry. Although the health-care industry is expected to continue to add jobs steadily this year, a resurgence in professional-services hiring could mean that health care is a smaller building block of the region’s job growth, rather than a cornerstone.
Even though a boom in the health-care industry has resulted in more jobs, the ripple effects of that growth aren’t necessarily an accelerant to the economy.
“To the extent that people are spending more on health care, it means they have less left over to spend on other items,” said Anirban Basu, chief executive of Sage Policy Group, an economic consulting firm in Baltimore.