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U.S. Students Unprepared to Fill Growing Jobs in Healthcare

The University of the Sciences in Philadelphia recently released the Healthcare Science and Jobs Survey, which found that many of America's high school students are intimidated by careers in healthcare and the sciences. Since these fields are experiencing some of the fastest job growth in today's economy, the University has urged the community to improve outreach and education efforts.

Nursing

Although the job market continues to struggle, one industry is actually projecting growth: Healthcare. The Department of Labor expects a 22% increase in wage and salaried positions in the field by 2018, which is double the rate of growth for all industries combined. That means at least 3.2 million positions will be created, with home health care, medical assisting and physical therapy leading the field in new job opportunities.

Part of this expansion has been attributed to the aging baby boomers, who are expected to place a steadily increasing demand on the healthcare system. There has also been speculation that the recent healthcare legislation may generate more jobs, although the impact of the bill may not be fully felt for years.

Given the perilous state of most professions these days, one might expect that projected growth in healthcare would make it a popular choice for young people as they plan their future careers. But according to a recent survey by the University of the Sciences in Philadelphia (USP), nearly half of America's high-school students are not even considering careers in healthcare or the sciences.

Science Class

Is K-12 Science Education Falling Short?

Conducted online this spring by Harris Interactive, the Healthcare and Science Jobs survey reached over 600 American 13-18 year olds. Forty-five percent reported that they were not considering pursuing a career in either healthcare or the sciences, although only 3% said that they feel there aren't enough job opportunities in those fields.

So why are healthcare and science so unpopular? The survey's results suggest that students are intimated by them, which may be due in part to a failing of K-12 science education. Twenty-one percent felt that they weren't good enough at related subjects in school, 19% said they didn't feel prepared to study healthcare or science in college and 12% said that getting a healthcare degree would be flat-out 'too difficult.'

There's been a lot of recent attention to the problems in public science education. Hoping to bolster science and math education, President Obama launched the Educate to Innovate program last November. Described as a 'campaign for excellence in STEM education,' the program has poured money into teacher education, national science events and public-private partnerships designed to bolster extracurricular education in the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields. If these efforts prove successful, they will better prepare a whole generation of young Americans for careers in related fields - such as healthcare.

The survey report also cites unfamiliarity as a possible reason that young students aren't interested in healthcare and science. Twenty-two percent of those not interested in a health or science career reported not knowing enough about jobs in either field. This includes 19% of 16-18 year olds, who are at a critical age for career planning. As this group considers their options in higher education and vocational training, many may exclude science or healthcare out of a simple lack of information.

Russell DiGate, provost at USP, notes that educators need to start engaging students with science - and scientific careers - as young as fourth or fifth grade. By taking a hands-on, experimental approach, instructors can get young people excited about science and the opportunities the field offers. USP itself has yet to launch any outreach programs aimed at K-12, but invites students to consider pursuing science education at their university.

Lab Studies

Science and Healthcare Attract Some

Of course, while 45% of survey respondents had ruled out healthcare and science careers, 55% said they were 'probably' or 'definitely' considering it. Of those interested in either field, popular career options included:

  • Scientist, such as biologist, chemist or physicist (33%)
  • Physician (30%)
  • Other healthcare professional, such as physician assistant, physical therapist or occupational therapist (29%)
  • Nurse (21%)
  • Pharmacist (19%)

Other careers students expressed interest in included medical lab technology, health information technology, forensics, veterinary medicine and public health and health policy.

When asked why they were interested in healthcare or science, 60% cited the large number of job opportunities. Others reported attraction to high salaries, helping other people or simply being interested in the field. Unfortunately, only 53% of those who reported considering a science or healthcare career listed being good at those subjects in school as a reason for their interest.

Scientists

For young people who are considering a career in healthcare or science, DiGate recommends taking all the science fundamentals at your high school - biology, chemistry, physics and anything else you can find. By developing a core background in the sciences, you prepare yourself for college-level education and job training in almost any science or healthcare career. DiGate adds, 'If students get that background then there are a plethora of healthcare related occupations that they can go into just by having a common preparation. Having a solid foundation in the fundamentals of the major fields of science is a great start.'

What are those opportunities? As we noted above, home health care, medical assisting and physical therapy are the fastest-growing jobs in the healthcare industry. Optometry and general practice are also expected to see a lot of new jobs in the coming years, and DiGate has predicted growth in osteopathy as the demand for practitioners with more general skills increases.

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