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Website Offers Information on Healthcare Careers in Western Mass.

Peta Gaye Portee

Peta Gaye Portee says www.westernmasshealthcareers.org is updated frequently, making it an invaluable resource for people accessing the healthcare job market.

When most students think about jobs in the healthcare industry, they imagine working in a hospital.
But the reality is that only 30% of healthcare employees in Western Mass work in a hospital setting. The rest are working in the community — in nursing homes, doctor’s offices, diagnostic labs, home-care businesses, or ambulatory healthcare services.
“Most students can only name about five healthcare careers — there are a lot of positions they aren’t even aware of,” said Kimberly Slepchuk, academic and career advisor for the Foundations of Health program at Holyoke Community College, as she listed jobs that range from medical assistants in doctors’ offices to pharmacy technicians and sales representatives who specialize in medical equipment and supplies.
“And although many people cite nursing as a career, there are 110 different types of nurses, which range from camp and school nurses to neonatal nurses, which is why it’s really important to delve into the possibilities,” Slepchuk added. “Most of these jobs came about after World War II and are team-oriented. For example, surgical technologists assist in the operating room, and one of the newest jobs is a sterile processing technician.”
And opportunities continue to grow. In 2008, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projected that by 2018 there would be 3.2 million new wage and salary jobs in the healthcare field — more than any other industry.
It’s possible for people interested in a career change to discover these positions by perusing national websites, but there has always been a missing link, as these sites don’t provide information about the local job market in Western Mass. — what types of jobs exist and how much the average person here is paid. They also fail to provide a listing of local schools with programs that lead to specific healthcare careers.
But, thanks to a newly launched website, www.westernmasshealthcareers.org, all that has changed.
“The new website is very, very helpful and important, because while students could get data about jobs in Massachusetts before, there is a huge difference between what is available in the eastern part of the state and here in Western Mass. in terms of jobs and salaries,” Slepchuk said.

Supply and Demand
The website was developed as a result of a collaborative effort. It is an initiative of the Regional Employment Board of Hampden County (REB), which teamed up with members of the Healthcare Workforce Partnership of Western Mass., with the goal of strengthening the region’s healthcare workforce and enhancing the quality of patient care.
“The idea for the website was generated by employers, educators, and community-based organizations with the express desire of letting people know what types of healthcare jobs and careers are available in the Pioneer Valley and where they exist on the continuum of care,” said Kelly Aiken, director of Health Care Initiatives for the REB. “Employers want people to know what kinds of skills they are looking for as well as the places where people receive healthcare. The website tells them about the positions that exist in different types of job settings, as well as the education and training needed for a wide variety of occupations.”
She added that it’s important for people to be aware of the rapid changes occurring in the healthcare field and the requirements needed to enter or stay current in different jobs. “For example, the language in medical coding is changing, and people who are interested in moving from a job as a medical biller to a medical coder need to know this.”
In addition, having a regional resource helps parents, career advisors, and people interested in making a career change determine whether investing in education for a specific position is worthwhile.
“The idea is to provide people with a regional resource about our community; there are jobs that exist across the continuum, and we want people to know what is going on here,” Aiken said. “It’s especially important because there are jobs going unfilled because employers can’t find qualified job seekers. Our employers have told us this time and time again.”

Kelly Aiken

Kelly Aiken says jobs are going unfilled because employers can’t find qualified workers, and the new website will provide the kind of information needed to close that gap.

The website reflects an extraordinary amount of research.
“We hired Six-Point Creative Works in Springfield, and they interviewed myriad people in one-on-one sessions to find out what they were looking for,” Aiken said, adding that the interviewees ranged from high-school students to immigrants who had worked in healthcare in their countries and wanted to get back into the field, to adults looking to make career changes.
“Employers were also engaged in the website’s development,” she continued. “It was a very collaborative effort, and our partners have been very involved.”
The final result is a site that contains detailed information in sections that include ‘local careers,’ ‘career planning,’ ‘education and training,’ ‘news,’ and ‘partnerships.’
For example, a click on the button labeled ‘local careers’ gives people a choice of then clicking on more specific fields, including medical and dental, office and research, lab work and imaging, therapy and pharmacy, vision, speech, hearing, and diet.
Slepchuk said these groupings make it easy for people to learn about occupations available locally that match their interests, along with what the work involves and the time and/or money and education required for the positions.
A click on ‘medical, dental, and nursing careers’ shows that the highest rate of job growth is in home healthcare, that many of these positions involve working with the elderly, and as this population grows, medical, dental, and nursing professionals will need to understand the basics of geriatric care. It also highlights a growing focus on preventive and primary care and a move toward more patient-centered care.
Visitors also learn that strong science, math, and technology skills are needed to work in this career cluster and that it is becoming increasingly important for people in these positions to be able to relate to people of different cultures.
Aiken says this information is critical for students and job seekers.
“In addition, employers are telling us that they expect applicants to show a degree of professionalism,” she added. “Healthcare is all about customer service, compassion, and professionalism.”
The website also contains links to employer listings. “The idea is not to replicate resources, but to help people access career-planning tools,” Aiken said.
There are also ideas and information about how to finance education and where programs are offered.
“We just updated the medical-coding page to reflect current standards, and we also updated the medical-billing section to let people know about a new program being offered at Holyoke Community College,” said Peta Gaye Portee, program coordinator for the Healthcare Initiative Workforce program. “There is also information about foundation grants, state grants, Pell grants, and scholarships.”
Meanwhile, the news section keeps viewers up to date with breaking developments, such as a new partnership between Greenfield Community College and Endicott College, which will allow nurses with an associate’s degree to earn their bachelor’s degree without leaving Greenfield, as well as a new public health degree program being offered at American International College in Springfield.
There is also a ‘fast facts’ section, which Slepchuk says students find useful. For example, it states that there is a need for sterile-processing technicians and surgical technologists in this area.
Another facet of the website contains links to nationally recognized assessment tools and tests that people can take if they are exploring the idea of a career in healthcare.

Future Outlook
Aiken reiterated that the purpose of the new website is to introduce people to the types of jobs that exist, which ones are going unfilled in the area, and the training and education that local employers expect job applicants to have.
“People need to realize that healthcare is a 24/7 industry and understand the realities of jobs in the field,” she told BusinessWest, adding that logging on to www.westernmasshealthcare.org will give people a “flavor of what is going on in the region.”
Which is good news for anyone who wants to keep up with occupations, salaries, training, scholarships, and other opportunities in healthcare throughout the region.

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