Healthcare Practitioners and Support Workers – Vital to Our Economic Health

by Anna Johnson

May 22, 2017

A strong healthcare workforce is clearly essential to Oregonians’ physical health; it is also an important contributor to the state’s economic well-being. There were nearly 145,000 healthcare workers statewide in 2014, which constitute almost 8 percent of all occupational employment. The Oregon Employment Department projects these jobs to grow 18.5 percent by 2024, greater than the 13.9 percent growth projected across all occupations. Among other factors, this growth is strongly correlated to continued population growth (particularly in the state’s urban areas) and an aging population in need of medical services.

Healthcare jobs are diverse in their duties, wages, and educational requirements but typically fall into one of two categories – practitioners or support workers.

Healthcare Practitioners

Healthcare practitioners include workers responsible for diagnosing and treating patients, as well as those directly responsible for administering advanced medical technologies. Occupations employing the largest number of Oregonians in this group include registered nurses, physicians and surgeons, pharmacy technicians, pharmacists, and dental hygienists. Statewide, practitioners account for about 70 percent of all healthcare jobs.

Broadly speaking, wages for this group are very high, but they vary widely across occupations. The 2016 average annual wages for the healthcare practitioners with the largest projected growth ranged from $203,516 for physicians and surgeons to $37,361 for pharmacy technicians. These jobs also typically demand a tremendous educational commitment. Many of these occupations require at least a master’s degree to be considered competitive for a position, with some requiring a doctoral or professional degree for entry level positions. Many practitioners are also responsible for meeting licensing criteria at regular intervals throughout their careers.

Healthcare Support Staff

Practitioners alone cannot treat, cure, and manage healthcare for all people at all times. This requires a larger, coordinated network of support staff to assist with specific, day-to-day tasks crucial to patient care and administration. Occupations employing the largest number of Oregonians in this group include nursing assistants, medical assistants, home health aides, dental assistants, and massage therapists. Statewide, healthcare support workers account for about 30 percent of all healthcare jobs.

Generally, wages for healthcare support workers are much lower than for practitioners; they are also lower than wages in many other non-healthcare jobs. For the occupations that employ the most Oregonians, the average hourly wages range from $53,665 for massage therapists to $24,000 for home health aides. It should be noted that jobs in healthcare support are more likely to be part-time than in the practitioner field. Most jobs require some type of non-degree postsecondary training to be competitive for a position. Workers typically receive this training at Oregon’s community colleges, Job Corp training centers, or private career schools.

Projected Employment for Healthcare Practitioners and Support Staff

Practitioner job openings are expected to be plentiful during the next decade. The Oregon Employment Department projects almost 3,900 total annual openings from 2014 to 2024 with almost 45 percent coming from newly created jobs (compared with only 37% across all occupations) and the remaining 55 percent coming from replacement openings due mostly to retirement. The occupations projected to have the largest number of total openings include registered nurses, physicians and surgeons, physical therapists, pharmacy technicians, pharmacists, and medical records and health information technicians.

Healthcare support job openings are also expected to be plentiful during the next decade. The Oregon Employment Department projects more than 1,902 total annual openings from 2014 to 2024 with about half coming from newly created jobs and the remaining half coming from replacement openings. The occupations with the largest number of projected total openings include nursing assistants, medical assistants, home health aides, dental assistants, and massage therapists.


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