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Healthcare Jobs on the Rise

Doctors of all kinds are in short supply, as is almost everybody delivering care.

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Wanted: doctors and nurse practitioners. Pharmacists. Therapists. And just about everybody else with an advanced degree—or even an interest—in healthcare.

Unemployment overall may be hovering near 10 percent. But a growing and aging population, the promise of wider health insurance coverage, and advances in medical technologies are translating into attractive salaries and signing bonuses for many of the people delivering care.

[Explore U.S. News's rankings of Best Health Schools.]

For the foreseeable future, "healthcare is going to be a great profession for career stability," predicts Susan Salka, chief executive of AMN Healthcare, the nation's largest healthcare staffing company. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that jobs in the field will grow by more than 20 percent from 2008 through 2018, twice the pace for overall U.S. job growth.

Primary care physicians top the list of doctors in high demand, according to Dallas-based physician-recruiting firm Merritt Hawkins. But the call for psychiatrists spiked 47 percent during the year ending March 31, 2010. That need came as "a real surprise" to Bindu Koshy, 33, a budding psychiatrist who reeled in "over 100" job offers even before finishing a four-year residency in December at a state hospital in Delaware. The winner: Bellin Health Care Systems in Green Bay, Wis., which offered a $250,000 salary plus incentives to earn more.

The sudden demand stems from the fact that "more than 50 percent of psychiatrists are 50 or older" and many are at or nearing the point of retirement, says Salka. This at a time when improved diagnosis and treatment, and better health coverage for mental and behavioral problems, are bringing more people in for help. Salka's firm has been fielding more requests for oncologists, geriatricians, emergency medicine doctors, and surgeons, too.

Where physicians are lacking, a greater load of responsibilities is borne by nurse practitioners and physician's assistants—who likewise find themselves in a seller's market. The shortages are exacerbated by a lack of training slots, particularly notable in nursing schools, to meet rising demand, and too few professionals with advanced degrees to do the teaching. Registered nurses are already the largest occupational group in healthcare, at 2.6 million jobs, but by 2018, about 580,000 additional RNs will be needed.

[Learn more about career prospects for registered nurses.]

Prospects for pharmacists are also "excellent," according to the BLS; the number of positions is projected to grow by 17 percent through 2018. These days, graduates of four-year doctor of pharmacy programs arrive on the job "ready for direct patient care," says Doug Scheckelhoff, vice president of professional development for the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists. About one quarter of people in the profession practice in hospitals, where they are increasingly part of the direct-care teams making treatment decisions.

"There are so many job opportunities out there with a Pharm.D.," says Eunice Rhee, a third year graduate student at the University of Southern California. Rhee expects that her degree, plus work in a hospital setting, will serve as a springboard into hospital administration. Other options range from traditional work in a retail pharmacy to research, drug sales, and teaching.

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