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Health care jobs are calling.

Need for Nurses, Other Allied Health Professionals Reflected in 41 Percent Rise in UAMS School Enrollment

THE 1979 BENTON HIGH School graduating class wasn't extra-ordinary at first glance. But it included a group of young men that, while rowdy enough, were serious about their futures.

Of that group of friends, two are engineers, another is a lawyer for a major drug company, one is a Ph.D. in microbiology, one a pharmacist, another a hospital administrator and three are doctors.

Impressive enough, but the point of this story is the boom in health care-related professions. The Benton boys deserve a further look, because there is more.

One of the doctors is married to a doctor, one is married to a pharmacist and the third to a dietician. The hospital administrator married an X-ray technician; the pharmacist is engaged to a nursing student. The lawyer is still single and the engineers, well, they just mess up the story.

Whether it was luck or prescience, the group landed in today's most employable fields.

Gail Glasser, a spokesperson and author on health care professions, predicts that by the year 2000 the country's need for nurses will double and the need for other allied health professionals will triple.

National trade and business journals have been writing about projected shortages in health care fields for at least five years. The most publicized shortcoming is in nursing, but there are others such as medical technologists, physical therapists, physical therapy assistants and pharmacists.

The government forecasts phenomenal growth in these "supporting roles" or allied health careers.

One study suggests that between 1988-2000, the number of home health aides will grow by 71 percent while the number of physical therapy assistants will grow by 82 percent. Medical records administrator jobs should expand by 75 percent.

Any guidance counselor worth his saline today is urging students to consider these professions.

In Arkansas, spokespersons for the licensing boards report "some growth" and "steady increases." Of course, they can only be licensed as quickly as they're educated.

Educating the Professionals

"All our graduates are employable if they want to be," says Dr. Ron Winters, dean of the College of Health Related Professions at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences in Little Rock.

"It's not hard for any of our graduates to find a job unless they insist on working in a particular place. If someone decides he wants to be a nuclear med tech in Marked Tree, for example, they may have a problem."

The college is made up of 11 diverse departments including audiology and speech pathology, nuclear medicine technology, surgical technology and biomedical instrumentation technology. It graduated 120 last May.

Enrollment is up 41 percent from fall 1990 through fall 1992. The spring 1993 enrollment figures are not yet official, but Winters is sure they also will be up.

This kind of growth is straining the college's facilities. So Winters has worked to build outreach programs to absorb some of the increase as well as make the programs more available to students around the state. For example, there is a radiologic technology program in Texarkana and a respiratory care program in Pine Bluff.

Winters cites three reasons for the growth of his college.

First is the burgeoning industry -- the furnace must be fed.

"People have recognized employment in health professions continues to go up," Winters says. "Employability and job security are high. A corollary is starting and continuing salaries are good."

Recent economic ills, Winters also notes, are a cause for an increase in applications to the college. When people are out of work, many return to school.

Winters offers a third explanation: the trend of more men entering the allied health professions, just as more women are entering medical school.

The UAMS College of Pharmacy also is placing students as quickly as it can graduate them.

"If we could graduate more, I'm sure they'd find a position in Arkansas," said Dr. Larry Milne, dean of the college, in an interview last summer.

Milne acknowledged that most of his graduates must choose between more than one job offer, a nice problem to have.

"It comes down to what kind of pharmacy you want to practice and where you want to practice," Milne said.

Some observers suggest that students are turning to allied health professions because the schools are easier to get into than medical schools. This is not always the case, however.

Competition is stiff in most, if not all, programs.

Dr. Winters says each of his 11 departments has more applications than student desks. Some get as many as 5-7 applications for each available slot -- the dietetic internships, for example.

The College of Health Related Professions accepts 14 dietetic interns each year. Only 75 slots are currently available annually across the country. The internship is one way to achieve the registered dietician designation.

Two or three applications per slot is the average for the other departments, Winters says.

Similarly, aspiring physical therapists can't assume they'll be accepted into a program. The University of Central Arkansas in Conway, with the state's only program, accepted 64 students this past year, up from 32 in previous years. But UCA still had more applications than positions.

Arkansas State University in Jonesboro is slated to begin a physical therapy program next fall, but there is a chronic shortage to fill with the graduates.

What About Doctors?

Physicians have always been at the apex of the career ladder in our society, and that hasn't changed. But the number of medical school students in the United States has stabilized in recent years to about 18,000, down from a high of 36,000 several years ago.

Some would-be doctors must find the allied health professions an appealing alternative.

The required education is less time-consuming and therefore less expensive than medical school. The job hours and stresses are usually less than for a doctor. "Yes, but so is the money," one might be thinking.

True, but allied health salaries are nothing to sneeze at.

Beginning salaries for a physical therapist average $33,000 and a physical therapist assistant can expect about $23,000. New pharmacists can make in the $40,000-$50,000 range. In contrast, new doctors can expect to earn $75,000-$100,000, but that varies greatly depending on specialty and location.

Remember, too, that unless these allied health professionals go into business for themselves they don't have to contend with malpractice insurance.

And it's noteworthy that Arkansas is consistently among three states with the lowest malpractice insurance rates, according to David Wroten of the Arkansas Medical Association. In Arkansas -- in fact, anywhere -- it is doubtful these rates are high enough to deter potential medical school students.

Wroten makes the point that many allied health students have chosen a lifestyle as well as a career.
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:Health Care Update; employment opportunities for medical care personnel in Arkansas
Author:Ford, Kelly
Publication:Arkansas Business
Article Type:Industry Overview
Date:Jan 25, 1993
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