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Healthcare salaries rising as population ages, fueling demand

Most of the fastest-growing jobs in Mississippi are those in low-paying service categories. Cashiers are expected to see the greatest increased demand, followed by retail salespersons. Waiters and waitresses, food preparation workers and janitors are also on the top 10 list.

Growth in employment in those jobs projected over the next decade won’t do much to help raise the state’s ranking as having the lowest per capita income in the country. But third on the Mississippi Department of Employment Security’s list of projected fastest-growing jobs from 2004 to 2014 are registered nurses. Nursing aides, orderlies and attendants come in 10th on the list.

Demand for healthcare workers is growing as America’s population ages. And that can have an important impact on the economy. In Mississippi, salaries of healthcare workers have a significant impact on the economy. A 2004 study commissioned by the Mississippi Hospital Association (MHA) called “The Business of Caring: The Economic Impact of Mississippi’s Hospitals on the State’s Economy” concludes that the average hospital employee salary is $39,676, compared to the Mississippi average of $27,182.

“Of the nationally identified high growth jobs, of the top 10 high-growth jobs, six are healthcare jobs,” said Marcella McKay, Ph.D, RN, vice president for nursing and professional affairs for the MHA. “That is important. Employment opportunities may be bleak for other industries, but in healthcare there are great job opportunities that pay well and also the work is so rewarding.”

The MHA report shows that state hospitals have a $10.1-billion total impact on the state economy. Operating expenses are $4.7 billion per year, with capital expenditures of $664 million per year (over $5.7 million per hospital). There are about 60,000 full-time hospital employees in the state with a total of payroll of $2.3 billion, averaging more than $20 million per hospital.

While there has been a lot of publicity both in Mississippi and nationwide about the shortage of nurses, it is less well know that there are healthcare worker shortages in other areas, as well.

“While the nursing crisis has somewhat overshadowed the shortage of workers in allied health professions, this group of providers faces many of the same dynamics that impact the nursing shortage,” states a report from the Mississippi Office of Nursing Workforce. “Significant shortages have been reported among registered nurses, imaging technicians, pharmacists, licensed practical nurses, nursing assistants, biller/coders and IT technologists.”

There are more than 200 allied health professions in the country that employ an estimated 11 million people. In Mississippi, there are program both in the community/junior colleges and senior colleges/universities to train nurses and allied health professionals.

“Those schools work closely with the employer community to constantly evaluate the program’s effectiveness and to assure what is being taught in the schools results in the skill set that is needed in the workplace,” McKay said. “In turn, the employers work to be supportive of the schools to encourage the funding they need to sustain their abilities to produce the healthcare work force that is needed. They really do work collaboratively to make sure we have what is necessary to prepare workers for the marketplace.”

McKay said at times the public doesn’t realize that schools and the healthcare organizations are working towards that same goal, and that is for patients in Mississippi’s healthcare system to have the quality care that they deserve.

“And because these educational programs for clinical providers require that they have clinical experience in hospitals and other settings, it is really important that the employers and schools work as partners because the hospitals and other healthcare settings actually serve as the clinical laboratory for the education of students,” she said.

One advantage of going into the healthcare profession is the opportunity for upward mobility throughout a career. Healthcare jobs provide building blocks for professional growth over the time.

“Nursing is the best example of that,” McKay said. “You can come in with a two-year associate degree, and continue education through baccalaureate, master’s degree and doctoral level throughout your professional career. In most other clinical disciplines, there are opportunities for advancement as you go back to school and increase your professional opportunity. I think that is an important component that is compelling for people, as well.”

Ricki Garrett, executive director at Mississippi Nurses Association, said healthcare careers are a very attractive choice for students.

“There is a tremendous demand for nurses and other healthcare providers in Mississippi, as well as nationally,” Garrett said. “One of our biggest problems is that we have such a shortage of nursing faculty. Despite the fact that there is tremendous demand, we have to turn away prospective students because of the lack of faculty. One of the issues is salaries. They can make twice as much in private practice so it is difficult to entice them into teaching.

“We successfully lobbied for a $6,000 pay raise for faculty last year with a promise of another $6,000 pay raise this year. We have also begun a campaign called ‘Saving Nurses Saves Lives’ to educate the public about the importance of nursing education in solving the nursing shortage. And we are trying to educate the policymakers in the state, such as the Legislature, boards of trustees and the College Board about how important it is to solve the nursing faculty shortage in order to solve the nursing shortage.”

As bad as the situation is, Garrett said it is important for people to realize that with 70 million Baby Boomers, the demand for healthcare is only going to increase. She said the shortages we have now are probably insignificant compared to what they may be in the future if we don’t develop some innovative ways to address the shortages.

Demand for healthcare workers is increasing. Garrett has seen some data showing that even though there has been a decrease in the total number of jobs in the state, there has been an increase in healthcare positions.

Information from a recent BusinessWeek shows that since 2001, 1.7 million new jobs have been added in the healthcare sector nationwide. The article includes a map of the U.S. showing that in Mississippi, even though total jobs had declined, healthcare positions had increased.

Even though there are more qualified applicants to nursing school than can be accepted, Garrett said they certainly want to encourage individuals to pursue nursing as a career.

“I always recommend that they apply at more than one school of nursing,” Garrett said. “It probably would be beneficial, too, to pursue an internship or some other means of getting some experience in the field to be sure that is what they are going to do. It also helps them to get to know the faculty at a particular school.”
Healthcare is an important economic development issue. Garrett says that by addressing the shortages in healthcare, the economy of the state can be boosted significantly.

“It is huge,” Garrett said. “I think we sometimes bemoan the loss of 100 jobs in a factory, and overlook the enormous economic development impact that healthcare has.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer Becky Gillette at bgillette@bellsouth.net.

About Becky Gillette

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