While the uncertainty in today’s technology job market is projected to last through the first half of 2002, demand for tech professionals in the healthcare industry will only get stronger in the next few years, thanks to federal legislation mandating electronic data sharing, a sparse worker pool due to the dot-com years, and a booming market for providers and medical vendors.

Healthcare is projected to account for 16 percent of the nation’s economic output by 2010, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, a division of the Department of Health and Human Services. In addition, top executives at Fortune 500 pharmaceutical companies project at least an 8 percent growth rate over the next few years.

What’s prompting the market growth? Sandy Lutz, research director for the national healthcare practice for PricewaterhouseCoopers, a national consulting and accounting firm headquartered in New York, cites the aging population, new drugs, medical breakthroughs, and the demand for new technology as top market forces.

This is both good and bad news for IT professionals. For entry-level and midlevel IT specialists, this market growth bodes a lucrative job market and expanding career-path opportunities. But today’s hiring IT managers will have a tough time both finding and keeping qualified tech expertise. IT leaders may also need to explore outside services to help meet technology goals and tasks.

I’ll take a look at the forces driving the demand for IT expertise in the medical field—forces that CIOs may find themselves battling in the coming years to try to win needed tech hires.

The demand for IT expertise
Lutz pointed out that many hospitals are now outsourcing IT functions so that they can meet the technology requirements of some new mandates in the healthcare industry.

One of these new measures is the Health Insurance and Portability and Accountability Act (HIPA) of 1996. Lutz explained that this requires that healthcare organizations transmit patient records in a secure, electronic environment to ensure privacy. As healthcare organizations are beginning to implement technologies and strategies to comply with this mandate, the demand for IT expertise has spiked for software developers, systems designers, networking and data warehousing specialists, and technicians. Although hospitals and clinics prefer tech candidates with prior healthcare experience, Lutz said, healthcare-industry CIOs and IT managers need to be flexible on that issue, because not only is finding that expertise rare, but technology experience from other industries can also be applied to healthcare.

Demand is also strong for medical technicians at hospitals, clinics, physicians’ offices, outsourcing companies, and service organizations, according to Roger Bowles, master instructor of biomedical equipment technology at Texas State Technical College in Waco, TX. During 1999 and 2000, he said, healthcare industries lost candidates to dot coms offering big salaries and enticing benefits. As the supply of medical technicians plummeted and the demand for them catapulted, many technical schools and two-year colleges were forced to drop their technical training programs, he added.

The demand is particularly strong in large cities. Bowles said his graduates receive three to five job offers from healthcare facilities offering starting salaries between $30,000 to $40,000 a year, depending upon location. Typically, salaries are higher in big cities such as Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, and Boston. “Field-service representatives working for large manufacturers usually start at higher salaries because the jobs demand a lot of travel,” he explained.

“Many of the technicians who are moving up the career ladder are going on for their bachelor’s degrees,” said Bowles. “Degrees are often mandatory for management jobs.” And the company-sponsored tuition reimbursement programs that are increasingly included in benefits packages are an attractive inducement for going back to school.

For more information
To find out more about careers in the medical technician field or to find schools (by state) offering courses or programs, visit the Association for the Advancement of Medical Instrumentation’s Web site at www.aami.org. Bowles is also willing to answer questions about medical tech careers and can be reached at Roger.bowles@tstc.edu.

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