ANNAPOLIS – If you can work a stethoscope, Uncle Sam could want you very soon.
The U.S. government will need to hire more than 50,000 new doctors, nurses and other health professionals nationwide in the next three years, according to a new study from the Partnership for Public Service, a non-partisan group that advocates for the importance of government service.
According to the study, the government will need these health workers and others to replace retiring baby boomers as well as to address the challenges created by two ongoing wars.
The hiring binge could mean a boon to federal agencies located in Maryland. The Veterans Affairs Maryland Health Care System, a division of the Department of Veterans Affairs, employs about 3,000 workers in five outpatient clinics, two major hospitals and one extended-care facility in the state.
Diana Davis, chief of human resources for the organization, said about 26 percent of its most essential employees — including nurses, pharmacists and doctors — will be eligible for retirement in 2013.
Because of the recession, Davis thinks many of those employees may choose to stay on the job longer, but she foresees that there may still be an increased need for staff to treat soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.
“We already have pretty robust recruiting activities going on to recruit for those positions.” Davis said. “A lot of it is going to depend upon what our needs are going to be for serving our Maryland veterans.”
The Department of Health and Human Services has at least seven divisions headquartered in the state, including the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda. But Christine M. Major, Human Resources Director for NIH, finds that the organization has been hiring health workers at the same rate recently.
“Based on the last three years … the NIH has been hiring about 15 public health professionals, 120 medical officers and 73 nurses on average per year,” Major said, in an email. She added that her office “anticipates about the same levels for the next few years.”
Among various health jobs, the study notes that nurses in particular will be in great demand by the federal government. Almost 35,000 nurses are projected to be hired in the next three years, which makes up roughly 13 percent of all the positions the government will need filled.
Dr. Martha Hill, dean of the School of Nursing at The Johns Hopkins University, sees this need for nurses as part of a much larger trend.
“The demand for nurses is increasing worldwide in all sectors of health care delivery,” Hill said.
Hill called nursing a “recession-proof” profession, which comes as a result of an aging population, an increasing number of people with chronic illnesses and the advancement of the technology used to treat patients.
“The need for nurses doesn’t go away [in a down economy],” Hill said. “It doesn’t reduce.”
Both Hill and Davis expressed concern over the ability of the federal government or private hospitals to fill the projected nursing need, stemming from the ongoing shortage of qualified nurses around the globe.
“Statistically, throughout the industry, there’s always been somewhat of a shortage of nurses. It’s not unique to federal service,” Davis said. “It’s been an issue that’s been ongoing for several years now.”
Hill sees the nursing shortage as a result of a lack of faculty and facility space in nursing programs, as well as a need for more financial aid. Eighty-five percent of her students are older and have earned another degree, Hill said, which means they’re usually carrying student debt.
“The need for financial aid to help support the cost of education is a major, major need,” Hill said.