By David Chilton
Special to The Toronto Sun
Choosing a career in health care remains a safe bet.
Employment prospects are good or excellent in many if not all specialties thanks to a combination of an aging population and stable government funding. As the eldest of the boomers turn 58 this year, Ottawa announced in its recent budget an additional $2 billion in health care funding as well as transfers to the provinces and territories that will grow to $28.1 billion in 2007-2008. In Ontario today the province spends almost $32 billion on health care.
Not surprisingly, nurses are most in demand. Spencer Nimmons, director of business development for Spectrum Health Care in Toronto, says RNs are always wanted and have been for a number of years. Delores Davis agrees with him. An RN herself and president and CEO of NHI Nursing and Home Health Care in Toronto says, "There's a terrible shortage of nurses in all areas."
That might not be a bad thing, of course; it depends on where the observer stands. A newly graduated registered nurse can expect about $21 an hour in Ontario, but if she heads for the U.S., which recruits heavily among Canadian nurses, a nurse can earn a lot more than that -- and some highly attractive fringe benefits.
Another occupation that holds as much employment promise as nursing is geriatric care, although the pay isn't quite the same and the chances of being recruited to work somewhere sunny are slim indeed. Nevertheless, Barbara Librach, activation co-ordinator in the gerontology program at George Brown College, says program graduates are snapped up and 100% of them find jobs in their chosen field.
A similar situation exists for dental hygienists, says the Ontario Dental Hygiene Association. The average pay for a new practitioner is $29.65 an hour and an experienced hygienist in the larger urban centres can earn a hefty $40 an hour. Davis, who recruits dental hygienists, says, "They're in big demand, high demand." But so too are dental assistants and receptionists, she continues.
Steve Orsini is the vice-president of policy and public affairs for the Ontario Hospitals Association. He says the OHA's 2003 Labour Market Survey reports that it will be difficult to "retain and recruit" MRI technicians, respiratory therapists, pharmacists, medical sonographers (ultrasound technicians), occupational therapists, speech pathologists and others in the future, and that's going to produce "great pressure" on health care providers, he points out.
Orsini says a major factor in creating that pressure is age and retirement. He notes that in the next five years a quarter of the full-time and part-time health care workforce in Ontario is expected to retire. Consider, says Orsini, 50% of medical laboratory technicians are already aged 45 or older, and the numbers are the same for respiratory therapists.
Orsini concedes that although retirement rates -- and funding issues -- are a problem for his association's members, they're good news for young health care professionals or those considering the sector. It means that employment rates for respiratory therapists, for example, will remain high with more than 90% of them finding jobs their field.
And medical sonographers, even if they can't quite write their own ticket, shouldn't expect to join the unemployment line.
Denis Poulin, executive director of the Ontario Society of Diagnostic Medical Sonographers, says there's a shortage of sonographers and so prospects for them look very good.
And prospects are even better for health information managers. With increased spending on the way and greater accountability demanded from health care providers, these professionals, who manage patient information and other data using computers, should see competition for their services become ferocious. Even now, says Heather Donovan, health information management program co-ordinator at George Brown, employers are trying to recruit directly from her graduating classes.
(Reach freelancer David Chilton at firstname.lastname@example.org
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