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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, January 10, 2005

Healthcare industry hot for job seekers

By Catherine E. Toth
Advertiser Staff Writer

There are dozens of hospitals, adult daycare centers, skilled nursing facilities and retirement communities across the state.

Saul Balderas Jr., a registered nurse at Straub Clinic & Hospital Emergency Room, belongs to a profession high in demand nationwide. Nursing schools, including at the University of Hawai'i-Manoa, are at capacity.

Eugene Tanner • The Honolulu Advertiser

And with Hawai'i's aging population on the rise, the health-care industry is only expected to expand further, as interest in alternative medicine, prevention, wellness and palliative care continue to grow.

It's no wonder, then, that the most in-demand jobs on the market this year are related to healthcare.

"Healthcare is probably the leading choice of employment in Hawai'i and in other states, and it will be for the next 20 years," said Sue Martin, general manager for Altres Medical, a division of Altres Staffing, the state's largest employment placement company.

A national nursing shortage has continued to fuel the demand for registered nurses, who can earn hourly wages of $20 to upward of $50, or more than $100,000 a year. Nursing schools around the country, including the University of Hawai'i-Manoa, are at capacity, many with long waiting lists. And states are bidding against other states for their supply of nurses, offering hefty signing bonuses and other lucrative benefits.

Tony Padron, a nurse from Kane'ohe, left the Islands last week to take a job at MountainView Hospital in Las Vegas, which came to Hawai'i to recruit nurses last year.

Even though Padron makes about $10-per-hour less than he did at The Queen's Medical Center, he saw benefits in working for a smaller hospital in a city with a lower cost-of-living.

He was able to purchase a four-bedroom home for $249,000 about half an hour from The Strip. (He's got a list of friends who plan to visit already.) And despite the chilly temperatures now, he feels confident he made the right decision.

"It's something new, something different," said Padron, 30, who graduated from the nursing school at UH in 1999. "I've always wanted to try working outside of Hawai'i."

Employers from the health-care industry will be heavily recruiting at Job Quest, a recruitment fair that boasts 105 employers, including Diagnostic Laboratory Services; Arcadia Retirement Residence; and Hawai'i Pacific Health, the parent organization of Straub Clinic & Hospital; Kapi'olani Medical Center for Women & Children; Kapi'olani Medical Center at Pali Momi; and Wilcox Memorial Hospital on Kaua'i.

Last week the Hawai'i Medical Job Fair brought in seven Mainland hospitals to recruit nurses, which are in high demand nationwide. Some hospitals offered signing bonuses and relocation pay that totaled up to $10,000.

Sunrise Hospital & Medical Center in Las Vegas has recruited about 25 nurses from Hawai'i so far, luring them with a $5,000 signing bonus, the opportunity to further their education for free and a city with affordable real estate. The hospital looks to fill 280 positions this year. It hired 304 nurses in 2004.

There are more than 14,000 active registered nurses in Hawai'i, according to the Hawai'i Nursing Workforce Shortage Taskforce. In 2000 the state experienced a shortage of 1,041 registered nurses, which is expected to grow to 1,518 by 2005 and 2,267 by 2010. Nearly 80 percent of Hawai'i's registered nurses are expected to retire by 2026, while the state's aging population increases the demand for nursing care.

In addition, the changes within the industry — how people are cared for, what people need — will further affect the demand for and the kinds of jobs needed to care for the nation's sick and elderly.

"Looking to the future, there will be more need in the community," said Lois Magnussen, interim associate dean at UH's School of Nursing. "With the cost of maintaining people in hospitals rising, there's this continued thrust at making sure people's healthcare needs are dealt with before they get to the hospital. We're actually sending people home more than we used to."

Industry recruitment fair this week

What: Job Quest

When: 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Wednesday

Where: Neal Blaisdell Center

Price: $2 general, $1 students with ID

Information: Success Advertising, 536-7222

Prevention is playing an important role in healthcare, with more jobs in nutrition and fitness sprouting up in hospitals, schools and retirement communities. Advances in medical technology have created more specialized jobs in the industry.

"There are so many jobs in heathcare that you wouldn't even think of," Martin said.

For example, Hospice Hawai'i employs registered nurses, social workers and chaplains. Kahala Nui, Honolulu's newest senior living community, is looking to hire registered nurses, licensed practical nurses, certified nursing assistants and those trained in fitness and nutrition. The Pain and Palliative Care Department at Queen's uses nurses, social workers, chaplains, and physical and occupational therapists. Straub Clinic & Hospital, which employs 6,500 and hired 425 people in 2004, has vacancies for nurses and pharmacists. Even the state Department of Education hires healthcare practitioners, including physical therapists.

Salaries in these fields — with the exception of doctors — can range from about $15 an hour for nursing assistants to $20 an hour for technicians to upward of $50 an hour for registered nurses, Martin said.

With more specialization in heathcare, there's a higher demand for people with special training or skills, such as pediatric physical therapists and nurses with symptom management training.

"We have, in particularly specialized areas, definitely a need," said Cindy Tamayo, manager of physical therapy at Shriners Hospital For Children and chairwoman for the state Board of Physical Therapy. "In our area, we may have job openings, but it's very difficult to find someone for pediatrics. Other areas are easier to fill, such as sports medicine, because that's been the area of greater interest."

Once a high-demand field, physical therapy has stabilized, due, in part, to the changes in healthcare, Tamayo added. Mid-scale physical therapists make between $26 and $28 per hour.

"The way healthcare has changed, acute care turnover is faster, so physical therapy is not as active," she said. "The jobs have changed. We moved from in-patient to out-patient to rehab centers. We grew a huge number of schools during that time of great growth in our field. Now there's more saturation in the market."

But in other environments, such as in public schools, the demand for physical therapists is still very high.

"There's still a big gap in employment," Tamayo said.

The attraction to healthcare professions lately has been better-than-decent wages and benefits, flexible schedules and greater opportunities in the field. But the real lure, industry experts say, is the chance to help others.

"Compensation and benefits are attractive for healthcare employees," said Art Gladstone, chief operating officer of Straub Clinic & Hospital and chief nurse executive at Hawai'i Pacific Health. "But I'd be remiss not to mention that folks go into the healthcare profession because they're in a field to help people recover from illness or return to their normal lives."

Reach Catherine E. Toth at 535-8103 or ctoth@honoluluadvertiser.com.