Are you thinking about a career in one of the allied health fields in Georgia? On the fence about it, uncertain, just not sure?
Let us help you – we think it’s a great idea for a lot of people. Why is that?
Demand: A growing and aging population (and workforce) is creating a need for new workers.
Choice: This sector consists of a great variety of occupations and work settings
Access: Georgia has the education and training programs to prepare workers to enter the field with the skills to succeed.
Demand: Health care is booming.
At a recent Atlanta Technical College convocation for soon-to-be graduates, many dental assisting students came in scrubs to receive their awards. It didn’t surprise Queenston Thorpe, dean of health and public safety technologies.
“About half of those students had job offers and were working before graduation,” said Thorpe. “Most of our physical therapy assistant graduates are hired before they pass their board exams, and many of our bioscience technology degree students are working in the field as soon as the complete one of the technical certificates embedded in the program.” With 350 bioscience companies in the region, there’s a growing need for technicians, she said.
Approval for new programs at Georgia’s technical colleges requires the justification of industry support and community need. That’s not a problem with most health care programs, Thorpe said. Dentists were clamoring for more dental hygienists and dental assistants long before Atlanta Tech could build the facilities to support those programs. .
Georgia and Utah are projected to add more health care jobs than any other states between 2010 and 2020, according to a 2012 study by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce. Health care will lead all other industries and account for one-fourth of all new jobs created by 2020, according to the Georgia Department of Labor. It is projected to grow by 120,000 jobs and employ nearly 540,000 workers overall. Nationally, the sector is on track to create 5.6 million new jobs in the same period.
That kind of demand means high employability and job security for skilled workers. Experts have foreseen shortages of nurses and general practice physicians in the future, but doctors and nurses are only the tip of the iceberg for the health care workforce.
Choice: Allied health workers work in a variety of occupations
“It takes many different kinds of allied health workers to support one physician,” said Joe Dan Banker, executive director for academic affairs, TCSG. Hospitals and medical facilities need nurses, patient care technicians, emergency medical technicians, radiologic technologists, EKG technicians, respiratory therapists, surgical technicians and a host of other allied health professionals to deliver today’s health care services.
“Not everyone can afford medical school, and not every health care job requires a four-year degree. Emergency medical technicians and medical assistants can start work with a year or less of training. If someone is looking for an affordable education for a career path where they can make a difference and earn a living for their family, allied health is a good place to look,” said Banker.
An excellent resource is the “2013-2015 Health Careers in Georgia” manual. Published by the Georgia Statewide AHEC (Area Health Educations Centers) Network, this guide is available in school counselor’s offices, college career centers, libraries and online at www.sowega-ahec.org. The manual lists 88 health careers in Georgia with a description or the occupation and workplace, the academic and professional requirements needed to enter the field, starting salaries and the Georgia colleges and universities that offer programs.
“When I speak to elementary, middle school and high school students, they are usually surprised by the number and variety of health care occupations,” said Kedrick L. Williams, Continuing Education & Health Careers Coordinator with the Southeastern Primary Care Consortium, Inc. Atlanta Area Health Education Center (SPCC Atlanta AHEC). “Community health workers, occupational therapy or chiropractic medicine are not discussed as career paths in a lot of schools.”
It’s AHEC’s mission to improve the health of communities by developing an adequate, well-distributed and competent health care workforce. Williams, who holds a master’s in public health from the Morehouse School of Medicine, first discovered his passion for health care in a summer camp sponsored by the Three Rivers AHEC, in Columbus.
“If we are going to build the pipeline of workers that we are all going to need in the future, we must expose and empower students of all races and economic backgrounds to the explore the career opportunities in health care at an early age,” said Williams. “Health care workers are about caring for people and giving back, but I tell students that no matter what their personality type, there’s a health care occupation to fit.” Those with musical and artistic talent can share their gifts as a music therapist, medical illustrator or recreational therapist. Business and analytical types will find roles in health information technology or hospital administration. Athletes will feel at home in physical therapy and investigative problem solvers are needed in forensic science, clinical labs, health information technology and social work.
Access: Georgia has many options for education and training
Knowing that 80 percent of the health care workforce will need postsecondary training, but not necessarily a four-year degree, the Technical College System of Georgia has been expanding and starting new associate degree, diploma and certificate of credit programs across the state. It has invested in new buildings, labs and equipment, knowing that the market demands current skills. “As of 2013, we offer 112 different health care programs statewide,” said Banker. “Last year, about one third (55,037 out of 159,882) of our students were enrolled in health care programs.”
New health care facilities and programs have opened at Gwinnett, Columbus, Chattahoochee and other technical colleges. In 2011, Atlanta Technical College opened the 2,800 square-foot, $14,8 million Brenda Watts Jones Allied and Technology Complex. “That building with its state-of-the-art labs including a $300,000 Siemen’s X-ray machines, two operating room suites and a dental clinic, allowed us to start new programs in dental hygiene, dental assisting, physical therapy assisting, radiologic technology, surgical technology and nursing, and we’re already adding a new wing to house our bioscience degree students,” said Thorpe. At present the school has 1,600-1,800 students enrolled in its 9 associate degree, 8 diploma and 14 technical certificate programs. Central sterile technology (requested by hospitals) and CT-Scanning are being added.
“Our campus sits in the midst of a wide array of top hospitals and health care facilities, and we partner with them to train our students and sharpen our curriculum,” said Thorpe. “Because admissions are competitive and these programs costly, we take special care in advising our students and helping them choose the right program based on their interests, backgrounds and aptitudes,” said Thorpe. “Many students want to work in health care, because they’ve been touched by it personally, but they don’t always realize what a field takes. Prospective students are surprised to learn how much math and physics are required in radiologic technology, for instance.”
Those wanting to see if the health environment is for them can start with a health science, phlebotomy, emergency medical technician or medical billing clerk certificate of credit to learn entry-level skills and get their foot in the door. “Health care is a field where you can always keep learning and advancing,” said Thorpe. With night, online and bridge programs offered at many colleges, health care workers often work while going to school to get to the next level. Thorpe said that starting salaries for diploma and certificate programs fell in the $30,000 to $40,000 range. Starting pay averages in the mid-$30,000s to $50,000s for associate degrees.