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Road to Recovery: Health Care Jobs



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(Sacramento, CA)
Friday, January 29, 2010
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 vials.
 
"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 vitamin deficiencies.  
 
"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 natural fit."

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 scientists.

"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.
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