Health care reform expected to expand job opportunities

University Park, Pa. — The health care reform legislation passed in March is expected to expand insurance to cover 30 million more people, which will open up job opportunities in the field of health care administration. Undergraduate and graduate degree programs in the Department of Health Policy and Administration (HPA) at Penn State are designed to prepare students for these future leadership roles, and the department is finding ways to adapt its curriculum to address the forthcoming changes.

“There are several major challenges the health care industry is facing -- we’re going to have more people receiving care. We need to control the cost of health care while improving quality and with the demography of the current population we’re going to see a major increase in the number of older people seeking care,” said Dennis Shea, professor and head of the Department of Health Policy and Administration.

In addition to these continuing challenges, Shea said the reform will lead to “a shift in where individuals are receiving care. Previously, the uninsured would most likely seek care at the emergency room, but now that they have insurance the hope is that they will be seen in a doctor’s office.”

Places that provide routine primary care or preventive medical treatment -- primary care physician offices and family practitioners, outpatient clinics and pediatricians -- will see significant growth, Shea believes. He also expects that retail medicine, which includes pharmacies and walk-in clinics in retail stores, also will see more business.

While there are many expert administrators in the field today, many of the challenges faced by the U.S. health care system are unfamiliar and may require new skills and strategies.

“There is a lot to learn about how to provide high-quality care at a low cost,” said Shea. “Individuals who understand quality control, process implementation and operations will be in demand. Medical and health services managers are projected to be the third fastest growing management field in the entire economy.”

Also in high demand will be “people who are IT-savvy, even if it’s not directly related to health care,” said Shea. There is a considerable amount of money set aside in the reform legislation to increase hospitals’ and other providers’ use of technology.

To cut costs and improve quality, administrators will have to improve teamwork among many health care professionals in many different settings from primary care to acute care through long-term care. Shea thinks that an understanding of human resources, especially as it pertains to the health care industry, will be valuable. Increased demand for services coupled with existing workforce shortages in nursing, primary care, allied health and technical medical fields will make recruiting and retention key issues for health care organizations.

In addition to opportunities in health care management, the new bill is likely to generate even more opportunities for graduates in health policy and health services research.

“The reform increases the role of both federal and state governments in regulating insurance, expanding coverage and reporting on quality, among other changes,” said Shea.

Lastly, Shea believes that individuals with financial expertise will have an upper hand in the new job market.

“It’s going to be a challenging financial environment,” he said.

Both the undergraduate and graduate programs in health policy and administration at Penn State offer flexibility to let students hone their skills and knowledge in an area of health administration that suits their interests. The HPA curriculum is continually being revitalized to address how the health care system is changing.

“Last year, we introduced two new courses, one on the financial side of health insurance and another on long-term care policy," Shea said. "We also have recently completely revamped course work in our graduate programs.”

Based on the structure of the new legislation, Shea is confident that the industry will see a major boom over the next few years.

“There is a slow implementation this year for the legislation, but as the expansion of insurance picks up between 2011 and 2014, that is when we will see the most growth in job opportunities.”

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Last Updated June 22, 2010