If you're a nurse who specializes in assisting with surgery, newborn care, or cardiovascular disease, you can write your own ticket. Broward Health Medical Center, for example, is providing a $5,000 sign-on bonus to surgery RNs who commit to two years' employment.
RNs remain in short supply at hospitals. Like nursing, other healthcare jobs are becoming more specialized, a result of the new healthcare law and technological changes. For the positions most in demand, there are school scholarships available for students or career changers interested in entering the field.
"We need good medical technologists," said Suzanne Luongo, director of clinical workforce development at Memorial Healthcare System. So the Hollywood hospital offers a small number of scholarships to potential medical technologists, to help them earn the required four-year college degree.
Luongo said medical technologists, who do lab work and help with diagnosis, can be a good job for people who want to be in the healthcare industry, but "not be near or touch the patient."
The U.S. economy added 45,000 healthcare jobs in December, and that need will continue to grow in South Florida as well, said Linda Quick, president of the South Florida Hospital and Healthcare Association.
"One of the advantages of having more insured people is that people feel with that card in their pocket they have greater access and tend not to postpone medical attention," Quick said.
South Florida's hospitals lead the online job openings posted each month.
In Broward and Palm Beach counties, there were more than 7,000 openings posted in December for healthcare workers, according to state data. Healthcare jobs made up 22 percent of all jobs advertised in Broward and 15 percent in Palm Beach.
As more Baby Boomers retire in the region and more people are insured, demand is expected to remain high for physicians, nurses, physical therapists and pharmacists. Local hosptials say there also will be a need for other roles that require less education, but certain certifications and experience. These include nurse assistants, x-ray technicians, medical records technicians, paramedics, lab workers, radiologists, rehab therapists, and sterile processors, who prepare surgical equipment.
Broward Health Medical Center and Chris Evert Children's Hospital have 120 to 150 positions open at any one time, said Letitia Woods, human resource director. Tenet, which has 10 hospitals and medical centers in South Florida, hires about 500 people a year, according to Gail Levitt, hospital recruiter for Delray Medical Center. Memorial Healthcare has about 200 job openings, mostly in nursing, according to Luongo.
The pay in South Florida for healthcare jobs is wide-ranging, from $10 an hour for a home health aide to $49 an hour for a physical therapist and $59 for a medical manager, according to state data.
"I'm in love with it," said Yeral Santos, 31, who screens cardiac patients at Broward Health Medical Center in Fort Lauderdale. "You see different stuff every day." He regularly does scans of patients' hearts and occasionally, "you come across a patient seen in the books but never seen in the field."
Electronic medical records mandates under healthcare reform also is changing the industry. Hospitals and other healthcare organizations are looking for workers who understand computers and have a medical background.
Delray Medical's Levitt said new support roles have emerged such as those who assist with the Da Vinci robotic surgical system, which most hospitals now use.
But communication skills, patient-care skills and "soft" skills also matter when seeking a healthcare job, especially in a hospital.
When interviewing, Levitt asks questions that reveal how a job candidate might approach an emergency situation.
"You need to be able to handle stress," she said.
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