Entry Points

For a student thinking about a career  in health care, the Valley teems with educational opportunities.

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Tuesday, January 01, 2013

If you’re in the job market, you’ve probably noticed that every second job advertised online seems to be related to healthcare. From nursing to massage to long term PCA (personal care attendant) positions, healthcare is one of the Valley’s strongest markets.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics nationwide, there were 641,000 job openings in the health care and social assistance sector in October, 2012. The average work week was 33 hours and the average hourly wage was $24.66. In short, growth in the healthcare sector, unlike nearly every other employment sector, is on the rise.

The Valley is not only a good place to find a job in the health care industry but a great place to to train for one, whether you are interested in a two-year degree, a four-year program or graduate studies. The Valley also has something for those who are seeking to study alternative and complementary medicine, as well as hands-on healing arts such as massage and yoga.

Holyoke Community College, for example, prepares students to enter the health care field as CNAs, (certified nursing assistants), X-ray technicians, ultrasound technicians, phlebologists and clinicians in other specialties that don’t require the four-year degree. The college supports over 1,000 students with intensive career counseling through its Nursing Success Program. In addition, the nursing department offers support for men and ESL (English as second language) learners.

“The next year or two, graduates will have a hard time finding jobs in acute care because hospitals are preferring four-year degrees,” warns Tina Jacques, a representative from Holyoke Community College’s Nursing Department. Jacques said she was confident that HCC’s graduates will continue to find jobs in health care, especially in fields such as assisted living and elder care and behind the scenes at labs.

For those who are seeking four-year programs, both Westfield State and the University of Massachusetts offer strong nursing programs. UMass currently has around 450 undergraduates enrolled in its nursing program. Claire LaMontaine at UMass explained the situation: “As the population ages, there’s an increasing need for nurses, especially in geriatrics and long-term care. There is certainly a need for mid-level providers and nurse practitioners in areas like maternity.”

Like Jacques, LaMontaine sees that more and more hospitals are looking for B.A.-level nurses. “Massachusetts is looking to expand B.A. level nurses to 80 percent of all nurses in the field,” she said.

The Pioneer Valley is known as a place where alternative medicine thrives; acupuncture, massage therapy, herbal therapy—if there is a complementary modality, it can be found here. At Holyoke Community College, Complementary and Alternative Medicine (collectively known as CAM) is taught in conjunction with the science and nursing classes.

“ At HCC, we believe that there’s more than just medicine in a cup, and we structure our education so that CAM is part of the courses,” Jacques explained.

In addition to some of the larger institutions in the Valley, there are many smaller organizations that offer programs for people seeking training in health-related fields.

The Easthampton Massage School, for example, offers an 800-hour certification as well as a practice clinic.

Blazing Star Herbal School in Shelburne Falls has long been a local leader in herbal education, but larger schools are catching up.

The Medicinal Plant Department at the University of Massachusetts offers classes in clinical herbalism, traditional Western herbalism and support for those doing independent study and research. One of its prominent faculty members, Dr. Lyle Cracker, has been working for years to gain permission from the government to grow and test medical marijuana at UMass.

The Valley, with its diverse population, is an ideal spot for job seekers looking to get a foot in the door of the health care industry. With excellent educational opportunities, students can enjoy the range of choices and find the best fit for them. As the next decade brings more baby boomers out of the workforce into retirement and eventually into long-term care, those who plan now for careers that will help meet that generation’s needs should find themselves in a comfortable position later.

 

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