For Lindsey Westerbeck the laboratory she works in at the
Sutter Memorial Hospital is her playground.
"It's so fun, I really, really like my job and you can't say
that all the time, you know?"
Microscopes and test tubes are everywhere. And high tech
machines spin out blood samples. Westerbeck grabs a few
"And then we centrifuge the specimen…and what that does is
it separates your red cells from your plasma, and so this is plasma
and this is red cells…."
Westerbeck is a Clinical Lab Scientist. It's her job to run
patients' lab tests - looking for cancer markers, blood clots or
"We're the investigators of medicine, we call ourselves
the doctors of the lab, a lot of doctors will call us for advice,
and interpreting lab results, we get to figure things out and kind
of put the puzzle pieces together."
Clinical Lab Scientists like Westerbeck are part of the job
category known as Allied Health Professionals. They're not doctors,
nurses, pharmacists or dentists…but they make up about 60 percent
of all health care related jobs. Westerbeck had trouble deciding
what to major in at Sacramento State. She toyed with going to
medical school or being a physical therapist….
"And then I went in to becoming a chemistry major and a
math major and I just knew I loved math and I loved science and I
wanted to do something with that and I just didn't know where to
put all of my skills."
Westerbeck is 29. She finished college with a biology degree.
And then she got her license to be a Clinical Lab Scientist - or
CLS - through a one year program at UC Davis Medical Center.
"It's crazy as soon as I started here it's like natural, it's a
Westerbeck started here about two years ago before the economy
bottomed out. Christine Flaherty, the regional laboratory director
at Sutter, recruited her. Flaherty says these jobs have
stayed steady and lab scientists get paid on average more than
$60,000 a year. But she needs more people like Westerbeck. She says
there aren't enough trained CLS workers to replace aging
"The programs in the state right now are turning out about
125 CLS grads a year, the vacancies around the state are predicted
to be around 390."
Flaherty says the demand for health care is increasing and
fast. Sacramento's population is growing. And there are more and
more Baby Boomers who need services.
There's no doubt these are hot jobs according to Susan Chapman with
the UC San Francisco Center for the Health Professions.
"Over the 10 years I've been looking at it consistently
health care is in the top, fastest growing jobs as well as jobs
with the most openings."
A California Wellness Foundation funded study predicts there
will be three-times more allied health jobs in the Sacramento
region by 2030…from 60,000 to more than 200,000. That means
more positions like respiratory therapists, ambulance drivers and
home health aides. Many of these jobs don't require a college
degree, just a few months training. But Chapman says there are
challenges ahead. Like a shortage of educational programs because
of state budget cuts and retiring faculty. And then Chapman says
there's the national health care overhaul factor.
"We also have another sector of the population that we often forget
about and those are the currently unserved population, if we do
pass health reform and more people are covered we will also see an
increase in the number of people seeking care."
A national overhaul could mean millions more Californians
would get health insurance. Even without major changes there will
be more people who need care. And Chapman says that
means doctors will be ordering more tests and putting more people
like Lindsey Westerbeck to work.