August 27, 2009
Local medical facilities reflect health care industry's strong employment outlook
Special to NWjobs
Its scenic setting, vibrant culture and great coffee aren’t the only things that draw people to the Puget Sound region. The area’s world-class hospitals and relatively strong health care industry also are major factors.
Ophthalmologist-scientist Russell Van Gelder came to the University of Washington from Washington University in St. Louis. In the summer of 2007, he and his family vacationed in the Northwest, and while driving over Stevens Pass, he broached the idea of working in Seattle with his wife, Suzanne Dintzis, a pathologist.
“We had just spent a wonderful week traveling the Cascade Loop, and I knew (the UW’s School of Medicine) had an open search for a chairman of ophthalmology,” says Van Gelder. “When we got back to St. Louis, I made some phone calls and found out the job was an excellent opportunity to help rebuild eye care at the university.”
He applied for and was offered the job, and the following January the family made the move to Seattle. Dintzis also joined the faculty at UW Medicine.
While other industries are struggling in the economic downturn, Van Gelder’s and Dintzis’ experience is indicative of the health care industry’s relative strength. According to the Washington State Spring 2008 Job Vacancy Survey, the industry consistently has high vacancy rates.
Even following the economic decline, 45 percent of the hospitals surveyed reported that they were planning to add more positions in 2009. Allied health positions and registered nurses accounted for the highest percentage of new positions.
Johnese Spisso, chief of clinical operations at UW Medicine and vice president for medical affairs at the UW, says UW Medicine is making a variety of improvements to streamline its management system. The facility is preserving new positions “for those directly involved in bedside care,” she says. “We have 266 open positions in direct patient care and about 40 in professional staff positions.”
Steven Hurwitz, vice president of human resources at Seattle Children’s Hospital, sees a similar trend there. “At Seattle Children’s, we’ve had no layoffs and we are very proud of that,” he says. “We continue to hire RNs, clinical positions and some administrative positions. And we are continuously growing our community physicians.”
“We always start [looking for employees] in our home market because we want to have a positive impact in our own communities,” Hurwitz says. “We fill about 10 to 20 percent of positions from outside of Seattle.”
Registered nurses are most in demand. There were an estimated 2,317 openings across the state in April, the most recent period available. King County alone averages 733 vacancies annually.
Keoka Hunter, a surgical nurse at Seattle Children’s, applied for her position at the end of April and was hired in June. She recommends that applicants remain patient. “It does take time for health care facilities to process paperwork and assess the prospects,” she says. “I made several calls and followed up with my applications.”
Although the health care industry is healthier than most others, competition for jobs remains stiff. “Right now we receive about 3,000 applications per month, and we have at any given time about 150 positions that are open,” Hurwitz says.
Researching the organization’s mission and culture may give applicants the edge. “We certainly are always looking for the most talented and enthusiastic applicants who have a strong commitment to and embrace our core values and mission,” Spisso says. “We want employees who are willing to go the extra mile, take on new responsibilities and be part of our transformation of care.”
As the health care system undergoes fundamental changes, medical professionals are finding new opportunities to improve on the quality and efficiency of care. Neurosurgeon Tony Avellino joined UW Medicine in July as the director of its new Neurosciences Institute. Having completed his MBA last year, he was looking for just such an opportunity.
“As health care evolves, I’m a true believer that people who have been in the trenches need to help make health care improvements,” says Avellino. “My interests have been in the business side of medicine. After I completed my MBA, I was fortunate that UW Medicine asked me to consider two positions. I had to think about where I wanted to be in the next eight to 10 years. The better place for me was to help develop the Neurosciences Institute."
The forecast for health care jobs remains cautiously optimistic. Seattle-King County’s estimated number of jobs in health care and social services was 106,400 in 2007; that figure is projected to grow to 117,300 in 2012 and 126,200 in 2017.
“I do think that 2010 will start to pick up. We have some growth happening,” says Meg Steele, director of recruitment and employment mobility for Swedish Medical Center. Currently, Swedish is actively recruiting for approximately 200 positions, most of which are clinical positions directly involved in patient care.
Swedish’s future growth includes 1,200 more jobs at a 175-bed hospital in Issaquah Highlands. Construction is scheduled to begin in 2010, with the first phase set to open in 2012.
According to the Health Workforce Information Center, there were more than 5,200 openings in Washington for health care practitioners and technical occupations and more than 1,200 openings in health care support in April, the most recent period available.
In addition to the average of 733 openings for registered nurses annually in King County, other related occupations with more than 100 annual openings in the Seattle area include nursing aides, orderlies and attendants (185), home health aides (159), medical assistants (143) and licensed practical and vocational nurses (105).
The Health Care Personnel Shortage Task Force, in its 2008 update released in February 2009, states that “the gap between supply and demand remains large for many health care occupations. We must expand at our community colleges and universities to prepare an additional 500 registered nurses, 300 physicians and nearly 80 physical therapists, among others, each year through 2014 to meet demand.”
Less than two years after moving to Seattle, Van Gelder already has had a hand in health care’s growth locally. Under his leadership, the 27,000-square-foot UW Medicine Eye Institute opened last month on the Harborview Medical Center campus.
“With our new eye institute, I’ve had the opportunity to recruit nine outstanding ophthalmologists to our practice,” he says. “Seattle is clearly one of the most desirable places in the country to live and to practice medicine.”
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