Healthcare is one industry where good employees are always in demand. With the aging Baby Boom generation expected to stretch the healthcare system to its limit, hospitals and other healthcare employers have a continuing need for workers to fill a variety of entry-level roles, such as dietary aide, admissions representative, administrative assistant, medical records assistant, housekeeper, patient technician, unit clerk and receptionist.
Landing an entry-level job in healthcare offers a chance for fast-track career advancement. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts the healthcare industry, which employed 14.3 million in 2008, will add nearly 3.2 million new jobs between 2008 and 2018, an increase of 22.5 percent. Employees already working in the field typically have first crack at promotions.
Here's how three hospital employees used their entry-level positions to advance their careers.
Recipe for a Career Path
Rachel Diaz began her healthcare career in 1999 when she joined the kitchen staff of Sutter Solano Medical Center as a dietary aide. Diaz had previously worked in a local pizzeria.
Dietary and kitchen positions in healthcare typically pay $20,000 to start and offer a career path for those who want to pursue a culinary career in a hospital setting.
"The fact that I had restaurant experience helped me land my initial job, and a year later, I was promoted to dietary clerk where I worked in the office helping to prepare menus," she says.
Several months later, Diaz applied for an opening as a file clerk in the hospital's billing department. She continued climbing the career ladder until she landed her current job as a computer systems coordinator. With each promotion, she learned new skills, such as the hospital's computer systems and patient-billing process, which helped qualify her for internal promotions.
"There's never a dull moment working in healthcare," Diaz says. "I'm always busy, and I really enjoy working in a hospital environment."
Stepping Up to Health Advocacy
Working her way through Western Oregon University as a personal trainer, Keri Davis knew she wanted to work in a field where she could promote the importance of good health. After earning her degree in health education, she took up her mother's suggestion to look into hospital employment.
To get her foot in the door, Davis accepted a job as an admissions representative at Yakima Valley Memorial Hospital in 2004. Candidates for these positions need a high school diploma, and previous medical experience is preferred.
Davis says the job was a crash course in interpersonal communications as she dealt with different patient personalities while admitting them to the hospital. "I saw every kind of disease and condition that exists," Davis says.
When a position became available in the hospital's health education department in late 2005, Davis applied, got the job and found her niche. She now works as a liaison with local elementary schools as part of the hospital's Passport to Health and Safety program, which promotes good health practices among children.
Springboard to Nursing
After a divorce, Julia Patten moved with her two children to Yakima, Washington, where she landed an administrative assistant position for Yakima Valley Memorial's nursing administration department.
In that job, Patten assists with writing policies and procedures for the hospital and serves as a representative on several hospital committees.
Becoming a hospital administrative assistant typically requires an associate's degree or related experience working in a medical environment. Before landing her current admin job, Patten had worked as a unit secretary, monitor tech and administrative assistant at other hospitals. She had also taken a medical terminology class and was proficient in a variety of word-processing programs.
Admin salaries typically start at around $30,000, and the jobs come with an array of benefits, including tuition reimbursement for those who want to pursue healthcare careers.
That's a perk Patten is taking advantage of to pursue her childhood dream of becoming a nurse. In fall 2006, Patten was slated to begin nursing school part-time while holding down her full-time admin job. "My colleagues have been very supportive, and my employer is helping me finance my courses," she says.
As her own situation illustrates, "For someone with an interest in science or business, an entry-level career in healthcare can provide an excellent springboard," Patten says.