Health care IT: Where the jobs are

The health care industry will add 5.6 million jobs by 2020, many in IT. Landing one is not as hard as you think

Need a job in IT? Maybe you should learn Cerner. If you don't know what that is, you have plenty of company. Cerner, it turns out, is a widely used programming language in health care IT. And if you look on Dice.com, the large job board for IT workers, you'll see hundreds of openings for workers with that skill.

But the real news is this: The health care industry will add an astounding 5.6 million jobs by 2020, according to a new report by the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. While there's no way to project how many of those openings will call for skilled IT workers, it's clear that there will be, to use the technical term, lots. Indeed, there already is a shortage, says Rob Tholemeier, a research analyst for Crosstree Capital Management who says "tens of thousands of critical health care IT jobs" are waiting.

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Why is this? One reason: "We constantly hear very experienced IT people complain that they weren't hired for open positions because they weren't nurses, or lack experience with a specific health care application package," Tholemeier wrote recently. Yes, that sounds discouraging.

But there's another side: Too many qualified tech pros are needlessly intimidated because they don't have specialized knowledge of health care and therefore never apply for IT jobs they'd probably land, says Helen Figge, senior director for professional development at the nonprofit Health Care Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS). But "you do not have to have a degree [in health care] or have five years experience in the field," she says. For example, a lengthy job description on Dice posted by New York's prestigious Presbyterian Hospital for an experienced Citrix system administrator does not even mention health care experience. 

So what skills are in demand for health care IT jobs? Database and work flow experience probably top the list, says Figge. But that's not all. A check of Dice shows 260 postings for Cerner-related jobs, while there are nearly 500 listings for IT jobs related to electronic health and medical records.

If you land one of those jobs, you'll be well paid. According to Dice, "tech professionals in the health care provider industry earned $79,000 on average in 2011. Those in the medical, pharmaceutical, and biotechnology industry earned more than $84,000 on average."

It's not hard to understand what's driving the health care boom. It's the aging of the Baby Boomer generation. By 2020, all of them (us, in my case) will have passed 55 and comprise about one-quarter of the labor force.

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