Northwest Indiana a hot place for a health-care career.
by Bob Kronemyer
With a diversity of educational programs and health-care facilities, Northwest Indiana is a vibrant environment to pursue a caregiver career. Coupled with the latest recession and an aging population, “health-care opportunities are viewed as good career choices,” says Angie Hampton, director of human resources for Porter Hospital and Health System in Valparaiso.
Although most openings at the hospital are quickly filled, jobs with more technical requirements take longer, including sleep technicians and experienced histolology (lab) technicians.
To attract employees, Porter Hospital uses a combination of online and newspaper print advertisement. Once hired, retention is accomplished by good management and providing the necessary tools/equipment/supplies for an employee to excel.
“Healthcare professionals are very passionate and motivated to do what they love to do, which is take care of patients,” Hampton notes. A good salary structure and a desirable benefits package are also key to retention, but surveys show that pay and benefits usually rank in importance below the employee's relationship with his supervisor and relationship with coworkers.
The existing 300-bed Porter Hospital is being replaced with a 250-bed (all private rooms) complex scheduled to open in November 2012.
“As we move into the future, I feel one of the most in-demand health-care positions will be experienced medical laboratory technicians,” Hampton says. In addition, as the region becomes increasingly recognized for offering high-quality health care, “there is really no need for anyone to seek care in the Chicago market anymore. I feel we have a very stable workforce in this region.”
That said, Hampton would like to see area schools open their doors wider for the training of medical technologists, “which is a nationwide problem.”
The College of Health and Human Services at Indiana University Northwest in Gary offers a bachelor's degree in nursing, an associate's and bachelor's degree in radiology (with subspecialties such as radiation therapy and diagnostic medical sonography), an associate's degree in dental hygiene (which will be converted to a bachelor's degree in about a year), a one-year certificate program in dental assisting, an associate's degree in health information technology (which eventually will become a bachelor's degree) and both a bachelor's and master's degree in social work.
“There is especially a shortage of family practice physicians, and there is an ongoing nursing shortage,” states Linda Delunas, a registered nurse and associate dean of the college. Furthermore, because of the high number of social service agencies in the area, there is a demand for social workers.
“We've expanded all of our programs as much as we can. We're at pretty full capacity,” Delunas says. This translates into about 75 nursing graduates a year and about 250 healthcare graduates overall.
One factor that helps to fill vacant positions in the region is that students who attend the College of Health and Human Services “tend to stay in the area,” Delunas says. Some students are also pursuing a second career. In response, the college has a second-degree program, whereby those already with a degree in another field (such as biology or chemistry) can complete a bachelor's degree in nursing in 18 months. The college is also seeing growth in the number of males entering health care, especially in nursing.
Down the road, Delunas envisions health information management as a much sought-after position because all medical records are going electronic. Nursing and medicine should also remain in demand. “With the new health-care law, there is a push for medical homes, where people will receive their primary care, then referred to specialists,” she says. Hence, there will be a greater emphasis placed on primary care and preventive care.
Elsa Martinez is a human resources recruiter for the Hammond and Dyer campuses (over 800 beds) of Franciscan Alliance St. Margaret. She says that clinical nurses, nurse practitioners and physical therapists are most valued. The majority of job postings for the two hospitals appear online at the hospital's personal website, for which candidates can submit an application online. Most job postings also appear on the national Internet site CareerBuilder.
“Five years ago, we had a demand for pharmacy and clinical nurses,” Martinez says. “But right now, with everyone going back to school because of the slow economy, we have an overflow of students. We have more students than we have job openings.”
Adding to the shortage of jobs are part-time employees and those called in only when necessary (perhaps one shift a month) who now seek increased hours because their spouse has lost his job or has had a reduction in hours. The hospitals have seen a conversion of part-time and as-needed employees to full-time status, largely because of the need for employee family benefits.
To increase a college student's likelihood of getting hired at one of the two hospitals, Martinez recommends that during internship these students generously volunteer on-site. Prior to graduation, “students should volunteer to shadow in one of the departments,” she says. Nonetheless, Martinez expects the “overflow” of job candidates to continue over the next few years. For example, in a class of 25 students in radiology from a local college, the hospitals have only one opening.
Meanwhile, the two hospitals offer employees tuition reimbursement to more easily maintain their credentials. Besides continuing education, pay scale is important in retaining employees. “We try to keep competitive,” Martinez says.
According to David Blumenthal, a workforce associate for research and development at the Center of Workforce Innovations in Valparaiso, “historically, over the past 10 to 20 years, health care has been one of the main drivers of job creation in the area. We expect that to continue, due to an aging workforce, changes in technology and the need for health care.”
The No. 1 job historically has been for registered nurses, which should continue to see a healthy demand. But there is also a need for physicians, surgeons, physical therapists and occupational therapists.
“Businesses are also looking for career-readiness skills like reading, writing, math and communications, as well as having a positive attitude,” Blumenthal says. Being a team player, able to work in groups, having good interpersonal communication skills and a customer-service focus are also prized. In addition, problem-solving and decision-making skills are desirable.
“Critical thinking is one of the top skills that health-care businesses are looking for,” Blumenthal says.
The education needed to fill positions range from a one-year postsecondary degree to become a licensed practical nurse, to a doctorate degree for physician or medical scientist. “In this area, we have nursing schools, and several universities have programs for different types of specialties within health care,” says Blumenthal, who notes that Indiana University Northwest in Gary has expanded its curriculum to allow for an M.D. degree.
Blumenthal observes that the needs for health-care careers are “changing at a dramatic rate,” in part because of changes in health-care legislation and health information technology. Therefore, “we are not sure what the skill needs are going to be a few years from now.”
At Methodist Hospitals, with one location each in Gary and Merrillville totaling about 600 beds, the need is greatest in ambulatory care (physical, occupational and speech therapies; radiology; nuclear medicine), medical offices (physician and outpatient) and home health care, according to Alex Horvath, vice president of human resources. “Nurses also continue to be in demand throughout our two hospitals.”
To supplement print ads for job openings, Methodist Hospitals relies on various web-based sites (e.g., monster.com). Once hired, employees are kept abreast of their particular field through training and exposure, including outside speakers and involvement with clinical/professional organizations. “I think we are going to continue to see demand in nursing and home health care, including hospice, because of our aging population,” Horvath says. “As technology advances, there will also be a lot of support for ambulatory services.”
Purdue University North Central Department of Nursing in Westville is one of several health-care entities statewide that has been working collectively with the Indiana Department of Workforce Development to try to meet the health-care needs of Indiana residents through strategic planning for student enrollments, placements and faculty needs.
“Many qualified students are not accepted in schools of nursing because there is simply not enough faculty,” says Mario Ortiz, a registered nurse and chair of the nursing department at Purdue. “We have been fortunate so far that when we have a faculty position available, we can fill it. But this is not true for all places in the state.” Likewise, some schools have been unable to expand their health-care programs because of lack of faculty.
Purdue University offers a bachelor's degree in nursing, but is phasing out its associate's degree in nursing. “Ivy Tech will be graduating all of the associate's degree nurses,” Ortiz reports. Both currently and in the future, Purdue will enroll about 90 nursing students a year.
“As of now, we have no difficulty placing our graduates,” Ortiz says. Initially, most find employment in medical-surgical nursing on traditional patient floors in a hospital. A few though, have been hired directly into public health or home health. “We are also seeing an increasing number of males in our program,” Ortiz says.
The economic downturn is forcing people to “rethink about what they want they do. They know that health care and nursing are pretty stable for employment. And as more men enter nursing, people do not view it as a career limited to women.”
Ortiz feels the most in-demand positions are nursing, physical therapy and occupational therapy. In the future, shortages are projected for advanced practice nurses to work mainly in the underserved areas.
Even among junior high school students, “it is not too early to start thinking about a career in health care,” notes Yvonne Hoff, director of human resources at St. Mary Medical Center in Hobart, part of Munster-based Community Healthcare System. In the past, the approximately 190-bed facility has sponsored an onsite field day for these young students. And recently, the hospital hired two construction workers as nursing assistants.
Most positions are filled via online application through the hospital's own website. The most prevalent jobs are in nursing, not only for dedicated nurses, but nursing assistants and unit secretaries as well. However, many experienced nurses who apply “do not want to work the rotating shifts,” Hoff explains. “They are looking for more of a steady day job like they currently hold.” To entice experienced nurses, “we do try to work with people and their schedules. Our managers are very good in this way.”
The future also bodes well for nursing, even though some recent grads in nursing have yet to find positions. It is also challenging to place a “green” nurse in critical care or the emergency department where the environment “is so fast-paced and the acuity is so high,” Hoff says.