(Black Press File photo)

(Black Press File photo)

Opinion: Supporting health degree programs is a smart investment

For Alaskans ready to start a career or return to work, this is a unique opportunity.

  • Saturday, October 24, 2020 6:08pm
  • Opinion

During the pandemic, Alaska’s oil prices are down, out-of-state tourists are staying home, and our economy is hurting. But as many industries get hit hard, health care jobs continue to be in demand — in fact, the need for new health workers has never been greater.

For Alaskans ready to start a career or return to work, this is a unique opportunity. Filling Alaska’s health care jobs is key to our state’s overall well-being. That’s why the University of Alaska’s health-related degree programs are so important to our collective future.

As president and CEO of the Alaska State Hospital and Nursing Home Association, I work with health care employers across the state, from Anchorage to Utqiagvik to Ketchikan. One thing they all have in common is that they desperately need more health care professionals of all kinds. They’re especially eager to hire graduates from Alaska’s health programs, rather than from the Lower 48. That’s because someone trained here already knows our state, and is far more likely to stay and work here long term.

When you picture a health career, doctors and nurses might be top of mind. But they’re just part of our diverse health care workforce. Statewide, the University of Alaska system provides more than 70 degree programs in exactly the professions that employers are looking for — from dietetics to dental assisting, pharmacy to public health, surgical technology to social work. All of these jobs pay well and all have an excellent employment outlook.

The Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development projects that jobs in health care and social assistance will grow by 10.3% in our state through 2028 — in terms of total job numbers, that’s far more than any other industry. Across fields, the need is great: For example, we expect an 11.2% increase in jobs for mental health and substance abuse social workers, and an 8.4% increase in jobs for diagnostic medical sonographers, who conduct ultrasounds.

These trends will undoubtedly continue as our state population grows older and their health care needs increase. The U.S. Census Bureau reports by 2030, all baby boomers will be 65 or older. That means getting a health degree is a sound career move — and a real opportunity to make your community healthier and stronger.

We applaud the University of Alaska for continuing to prioritize health degrees in our state, especially at such a critical time. The university’s health programs are strong and stable, and many are now offered either fully online or in person in communities across Alaska, making it easier to launch a new career wherever you live.

On behalf of health care employers across our state, I know that supporting health degree programs is one of the smartest long-term investments we can make. Health care jobs are an integral part of Alaska’s recovery from the pandemic. I encourage more Alaskans to explore these careers — our state needs you!

Jared C. Kosin, J.D., M.B.A. is president and CEO of the Alaska State Hospital and Nursing Home Association.

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