D.C.’s Healthcare Industry and COVID-19: What Career Opportunities Remain at Hospitals and Large Businesses?
Be a doctor or nurse, they said. You will never be laid off.
COVID-19 made a lie of that advice.
Last year was a difficult one for hospitals and other large healthcare businesses, both in terms of financial and human toll. Though the aftermath of both lingers in the form of budgetary difficulties and employee burnout, the industry looks poised to return to its position atop everyone’s growth lists.
Here is a look at the state of big healthcare businesses in D.C. before and during the pandemic, as well as predictions about how the sector will look as COVID-19 fades.
Healthcare before the pandemic
The district, home to 16 hospitals and medical centers, has long been considered a national center for patient care and research. Before the pandemic, D.C.-area hospitals were expanding, and developers were converting unused spaces to health facilities.
Of the 59,000 healthcare and social assistance jobs in the district pre-pandemic, nearly half were in hospitals. There were nothing but blue skies ahead, as year after year healthcare landed near the top of every list of growth industries in D.C.
Healthcare during the pandemic
Two contradictory trends quickly emerged as COVID-19 ravaged the country.
On one hand, critical-care providers worked past the brink of exhaustion, and hospitals offered premium pay to try to entice personnel. Nursing and medical school students were graduated early so they could begin practice.
On the other hand, hundreds of hospitals furloughed or laid off nurses and doctors as revenue-generating elective procedures were cancelled. The American Hospital Association estimated a $50.7 billion revenue loss per month from March to June.
Normally a recession-proof industry, healthcare took a hit this time around. Nationwide from February to April 2020, healthcare employment fell 9.5 percent, according to Peterson-KFF’s healthsystemtracker.org. The decline was steeper in D.C., at 13.8 percent. Hospital jobs in D.C. fell 10.5 percent.
In April alone, 1.4 million healthcare jobs disappeared across the country, nearly 135,000 in hospitals.
Though many jobs have returned, hospitals from coast to coast continue to lay off workers in the wake of lower patient volume and increased expenses, according to Becker’s Hospital Review.
Despite this, the Bureau of Labor Statistics expects healthcare hiring to remain strong through 2029, with 15 percent growth. The agency foresees opportunity at every education level, from doctorates to high-school diplomas. BLS predicts even bigger growth—32 percent—in the field of medical and health-services managers.
The growth in positions requiring only high-school diplomas, which include work such as pharmacy technicians, will be particularly attractive to lower-wage earners whose former jobs are not going to recover from the pandemic.
The pandemic has also created different job opportunities in the healthcare industry, spurred both by the need to adapt facilities and boost electronic infrastructure.
Expect to see changes in the physical layout of many facilities, as hospitals move to create “hot zones” for patients with COVID-like diseases as well as “cold zones” that would allow elective procedures to continue. These conversions will lead to a demand for architectural and engineering specialists.
Being able to continue routine care in the face of a pandemic will require closer attention to the types of supply-chain issues that led to PPE shortages and nurses donning garbage bags early in the COVID-19 pandemic. An emphasis on increased preparedness will take hold in hospitals, creating a need for planners and project managers with knowledge on healthcare issues.
Big data, too, will have a larger role in healthcare in the future, allowing hospitals to better track supplies and beds both within their facilities and regionally. Healthcare IT, which long has been a hot career field, will become even more so as hospitals look for people who can build interfaces that allow often-disparate computer systems to communicate.
Despite the ravages of the pandemic, immense job opportunities remain in big healthcare businesses, not only for medical professionals but for those with other skills as well.