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U.S. will need 5.6 million more healthcare workers by 2020

The healthcare economy is expected to grow at twice the rate of the national economy between now and 2020 and will create an additional 5.6 million jobs over those eight years, according to a report released by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce.

The report further notes that the demand for a post-secondary education for the bulk of the new healthcare jobs will grow faster than other fields except STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) and jobs in Education. In all, 82 percent of all jobs created in the next eight years will require some form of post-secondary education and training, or 4.6 million of the 5.6 million jobs created.

“In healthcare, there are really two labor markets: professional and support” said Anthony P. Carnevale, the Center’s director and the report’s lead author, in a press release. Further, Carnevale noted, mobility between the two classes of jobs is very minimal “and the pay gap is enormous. The average professional worker makes 2.5 times as much as the average support worker.”

Despite this huge disparity within the healthcare employment sector the report also found that while more than 70 percent of healthcare support workers – the second fastest growing sector in the industry behind only nursing – earn less than $30,000 per year, earnings in these occupations can still outstrip the earnings for other workers with similar skills in other industries, sometimes by as much as 10 percent.

At the other end of the spectrum, the report anticipates that by 2020, more than 28 percent of all jobs in the healthcare field will require a graduate degree of some kind – the second highest rate among all occupations. And while much of that can be attributed to the doctors in the field, the Georgetown researchers noted that fully 50 percent of this total can be tracked to other occupations such as audiologists, radiology technicians, behavioral healthcare specialists and physician’s assistants all of whom have master’s degrees or better.

Other key findings of the research:

  • Healthcare successfully competes for science and engineering talent. Because healthcare, science, and technology fields tend to require similar skills, healthcare programs at the associate and bachelor’s level are often an appealing alternative for science and engineering students.
  • Upskilling in nursing is growing especially fast. In 1980, 37 percent of entry-level registered nurses had at least an associate’s degree; by 2008, that figure had increased to 80 percent.
  • Rising bachelor degree requirements in nursing is crowding out disadvantaged minorities. A total of 51 percent of White nurses under 40 years old have bachelor’s degrees, compared to only 46 percent of Hispanics and 44 percent of African American nurses.
  • Healthcare has the largest number and proportion of foreign-born and foreign-trained workers in the U.S. Among healthcare workers 22 percent are foreign born, compared to 13 percent of all workers nationally. Most foreign-born nurses come from the Philippines, India and China.