Hot jobs available in health care

Jennifer Jenkins, a recent graduate of the University of Central Florida's Medical Laboratories Sciences program, now works for the Orlando Regional Medical Center. (Jacob Langston/Orlando Sentinel)

Jennifer Jenkins and Tanya Belt aren't worried about finding jobs.

In a state where the unemployment rate is hovering around 11.5 percent, they have plenty of options.

Both women quickly landed jobs at Orlando hospitals after graduating from the University of Central Florida's Medical Laboratories Sciences program recently.

The program's current job placement rate: 100 percent.

"I just knew there would be so many opportunities for jobs," Belt, 23, said of choosing health care as a career.

In a chronically weak job market, the health-care industry is offering a lot of hope for new college grads. Not just for today, but for years to come.

Jenkins' and Belt's prospects are highlighted by federal job projections.

Thousands more health-care workers, from doctors to nurses to physical therapists, will be needed in the coming decade in Florida and across the country to treat the increasing number of older Americans — particularly the enormous baby boom generation.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, health care is expected to generate 3.2 million new jobs through 2018, more than any other industry and mainly because of the increasing number of elderly.

In Florida alone, U.S. Census data shows, the population of persons 65 and older is projected to increase by nearly 82 percent through 2020 to 5.1 million.

Add to that scenario the game-changing effects of federal health-care reform and the rapid evolution of medical technology in diagnosing and treating disease and it's easy to see why job-growth projections in health care are so robust.

"I'm very optimistic about the immediate future — it's an almost can't-miss opportunity," Aaron Liberman, a longtime hospital administrator and chairman of the Department of Health Management and Informatics at the University of Central Florida, says about jobs in health care.

Jobs aplenty

Belt, who works as a technologist in the microbiology laboratory at Florida Hospital Orlando, had multiple job offers before graduating in spring.

She likes the flexibility her education offers. While her current job involves examining human body fluid and tissue samples for the cause of disease, her license allows her to practice a variety of lab work.

"Coming out of high school, I knew I liked biology," Belt said. "After looking into laboratory sciences, I discovered you have many, many options in terms of jobs. It's very detailed work. It's like working a puzzle. I like that."

UCF's medical laboratories sciences program is offered through the Burnett School of Biomedical Sciences, part of the College of Medicine.

Students learn over a four-year bachelor's degree program how to conduct and read lab tests on blood, urine and other fluid and tissue samples. Graduates who pass a licensing exam can work in hospitals or independent labs.

Bottom line: The opportunities in health care go far beyond just doctors and nurses, Dorilyn Hitchcock, director of UCF's Laboratories Sciences Program, says.