SNHU Healthcare Programs Growth Pacing Job Market
By Jane Harrigan
Healthcare is hiring. The evidence is everywhere.
You can see it in headlines like this one from U.S. News & World Report: “Want Job Security? Get Into Healthcare.”
You can see it in listings: Career Builder, the largest online U.S. job site, reported 23 percent of healthcare employers left jobs open last year because they couldn’t find enough qualified people.
You can see it in government reports: The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that healthcare positions will account for nearly one-third of all jobs added to the U.S. economy between 2012 and 2022.
You can see it in SNHU’s research: A 2013 College for America report highlights six nonclinical healthcare positions, including medical records technician and patient representative, that are expected to add more than 2 million job openings this decade.
Healthcare, already the largest segment of the U.S. economy, is growing fast and changing even faster. At SNHU, with its mission to prepare students for the professional world, online programs in healthcare are growing as fast as the field. Administrators, faculty, and academic and career advisors are tracking relevant research and connecting with healthcare professionals so the university can respond quickly to keep programs current.
“Whatever our programs look like today, they won’t look the same in a few months,” says William Hartglass, assistant vice president of marketing and student recruitment.
“Healthcare is absolutely an area of growth and opportunity for us and our students,” says MSR Associate Vice President Jennifer Brady.
Nursing and healthcare programs created in the last two years are proving to be big draws for SNHU. Undergraduate and graduate students can explore their interests, whether or not they enjoy science or want to work directly with patients.
Depending on their chosen degrees, they could wind up working at hospitals or medical practices, drug companies or insurance companies, social service agencies, government offices or consulting firms.
“Healthcare affects everyone in the world,” says Kathleen Polley-Payne, chief nursing administrator and associate dean of nursing. “Is there anything more important?”
New Programs Are Booming
In expanding its healthcare options, the College of Online and Continuing Education has clearly tapped into a need. The B.S. in Nursing, which launched in January 2013 with 49 students, had 800 students by its first anniversary this year.
The B.S. in Healthcare Management, also new last year, has been attracting more students at the start of each term than any other undergraduate major; 967 were enrolled last term. At the master’s level, 680 students were studying healthcare administration and management in MSM and MBA programs targeted to the field.
Informatics has reigned as the recent champ of the health-careers growth spurt. Burning Glass Technologies, a Boston-based company that analyzes labor market data, reported last year that postings for jobs in informatics were increasing 10 times faster than healthcare jobs overall.
Combining aspects of business, technology and healthcare, informatics involves collecting, managing and analyzing information. Demand for healthcare informatics experts can be seen everywhere, from the overhaul of the healthcare.gov website to the need for cost-effective digitization and secure management of patient health records.
At SNHU, 154 students were enrolled last term in the MBA program in healthcare informatics, and an additional 102 are studying for an M.S. in information technology with a healthcare concentration. At the undergraduate level, 254 students were enrolled in the B.S. in health informatics.
Maintaining a detailed analysis of trends in the professional marketplace is just one of the ways COCE stays on top of developments in healthcare and other fields as it’s considering new programs. COCE is continuously analyzing job postings on the Internet, job titles that are most in demand and specific skills employers are seeking when they hire for those positions.
“The kind of data we’re examining validates for us what we’re hearing anecdotally,” says Mary Higgins, assistant vice president for new program launch at COCE. If the university is going to embark on the intensive process of developing a new program, she says, “it’s important to be sure we have up-to-date, quality content, and to be sure the demand for graduates is there.”
Healthcare Is Evolving
SNHU officials see more healthcare programs in the university’s future because the factors driving the field’s growth aren’t going away. First and foremost, people are living longer. The mass of aging baby boomers is encountering more health problems just as the Affordable Care Act begins to nudge an estimated 32 million previously uninsured patients into the healthcare system.
Meanwhile, healthcare providers are working to shift routine patient care away from doctors to other professionals such as nurse practitioners and physician’s assistants. New job titles like “patient care navigator” are emerging to reflect these changes and highlight the need for trained experts who can communicate clearly and guide patients through a complex system.
At the same time, nearly every field within healthcare is increasing education requirements. The changes in nursing, for instance, help explain the start of SNHU’s undergraduate and graduate nursing programs.
Many hospitals nationwide have adopted the findings of a report by the nonprofit Institute of Medicine, which recommended that 80 percent of working nurses have a bachelor’s degree by 2020. When the report came out in 2010, only about half of the nation’s 3 million nurses had a B.S. or higher. Now both experienced nurses and new ones are looking to advance their educations.
A partnership with New Hampshire’s community college system has made it easier for students to continue to SNHU after earning an associate degree in nursing. Experienced RNs can enroll in the B.S. program or in the “Advanced Pathway,” a quicker route from an RN to a master’s. Enrollment in all of SNHU’s nursing programs is likely to grow even faster if, as expected, the recent audit by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education results in accreditation later this year.
Tammey McCloud, who has 15 years’ experience as an emergency room nurse, uses the word “transformational” to describe what she’s learning in the B.S. program.
“I think about everything in nursing differently now,” she says. “I feel empowered as a nurse. I feel I can engage in the process of change and really embrace what the ‘new’ healthcare is going to bring us.”
Shaping the Future
Though it’s too early to say what new programs may join SNHU’s healthcare lineup, administrators definitely expect offerings to expand – and the words “public health” come up often. What interests the university is not just the ability to prepare students for a growing industry but the opportunity to influence healthcare’s changes.
“Imagine a world where everyone in the healthcare system collaborates, each of them understanding the unique problems faced by the others,” says Polley-Payne. “They make plans that both help patients and are cost-effective. That’s the future.”
Already, nursing students and healthcare management students work together in some courses. Members of each group solve a case study, then get together online to compare their plans. Suddenly the nurses are saying, “Wait, how are we going to pay for this?” and the management students are saying, “Wait, how is anyone actually going to deliver this care?”
“They begin to understand that there is no villain,” Polley-Payne says. “Healthcare managers are just as passionate about providing quality care to patients as are healthcare providers. And quality care is an ethical issue because every single person deserves quality care.”