Health care offers healthy prospects for second careers

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By Vickie Elmer
Sunday, May 16, 2010

Maybe you never will work as a nurse or a doctor because you get dizzy each time you see blood. Yet health care looks like a smart second career, especially with the health-care overhaul potentially pumping in millions of new customers -- and jobs.

"We are hiring clinicians, physicians, certified nursing assistants, medical coders, billers, all kinds of people," said Michelle Lee, chief executive of Alexandria-based STG International, which provides medical and professional staff and services. STG manages clinics for the Veterans Health Administration, provides Head Start training and recruits candidates for many government jobs.

Many people filling those jobs arrive with no background in the medical sector, Lee said. What they have is a commitment to help people feel better or to work with patients. They also might appreciate the prospect of long-term job security and an array of career options. A labor shortage could develop within eight years, with health-care jobs going unfilled unless baby boomers and others embrace them, according to a recent report by several academics and Civic Ventures, an organization that advocates education and employment opportunities for people 55 and older.

Phyllis Segal, Civic Ventures vice president of health care, said she expects "an explosion of opportunities" fueled partly by the new health-care law.

Health care grew even during the recession, when most other sectors were cutting jobs. The sector has added 244,000 jobs in the past year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Among the most vibrant areas:

-- Insurance companies. With every American going to be required to carry health insurance, insurance companies will hire agents, customer service staff, claims processors and professionals.

-- Government agencies and contractors. An array of jobs from IT manager to program director to medical assistants will open up, Lee said. Many will require medical or specialized degrees; others will require certification or professional expertise.

-- Wellness and elder care. Jobs such as wellness coach and patient navigator are developing and will be great second careers, Segal said.

-- Nursing and patient care. Employers will need to hire almost a million new nurses and home health aides by 2018, according to BLS. Vocational nurses, nursing aides and personal aides will also be in demand. If you're ready to move into a health-care career, start with a healthy curiosity. "Talk to people who work in the health care field," Segal said. "Ask a lot of questions." You also should find some service or volunteer work in medicine to learn more and build your network.

Lee suggests targeting five to 10 employers of interest and finding people inside the companies to talk with you about their career paths and the companies' cultures. She's an advocate of using LinkedIn and other social networking sites. "My recruiters are on there all the time to find the right match," she said. They also watch medical professional organization sites and listservs for people who are engaged and active.

"Choose your second career instead of having it choose you," she said. Lee made her own career change around 1997 after years working as a librarian. Although she still loved research work, she decided to become an entrepreneur and started selling information search services to the federal government. Soon, her client asked her to locate nurses to hire. Now STG has 1,700 workers and operations across the country.

She said she thinks people who are willing to do some research and outreach to find health-care jobs will thrive.

"A lot of things are going to change" with the new health-care requirements, she said. "Change brings opportunity. Get ready and jump in."

Vickie Elmer is a freelance writer.


© 2010 The Washington Post Company

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