BBJ’s latest list of the best-paid occupations has lots of docs on it

By Jenny Hottle | Staff
Originally published in the Baltimore Business Journal on Jan. 11, 2013.

Health care jobs requiring extensive schooling and training top the charts for the highest-paying occupations in the Baltimore area, a trend economics expect to continue as demand increases for health care services.

Surgeons — earning an average salary of $235,390 — made the top of the list, ranking above oral surgeons, anesthesiologists, obstetricians and gynecologists and general internists, according to Baltimore Business Journal research and data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Last year, obstetricians and gynecologists ranked the highest on the list, earning an average of $228,110. Oral surgeons, anesthesiologists, physicians and surgeons and general internists rounded out the top five highest-paying jobs.

Factors such as an aging population and the new federal Affordable Care Act will keep health care professions in demand, said John Coughlan an economist at the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The health care industry, the fastest growing job sector in the mid-Atlantic region, is predicted to grow by about 24 percent nationally from 2010 to 2020, according to bureau reports.

“Demographically, the baby boom generation is driving a lot of growth in the health care industry, Coughlan said. “Everyone’s demanding more health care services.”

The population of people who are at least 65 is estimated to increase to 54.8 million in 2020 from 40.2 million in 2010, according to bureau projections.

In addition to the aging population, industry growth also comes from longer life expectancies, new technologies, and increased treatment options, said Summar Goodman, the deputy director of communications at the Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation.

One of the most immediate impacts on the health care industry is the federal health care law, said John Challenger, CEO of Challenger, Grey & Christmas, an outplacement consulting firm.

The Affordable Care Act will provide an additional 30 million people around the country with health insurance by 2021, and measures effective this year are putting pressure on the industry, Challenger said.

“Health care organizations are very concerned that they just don’t have the capacity to handle the work that will be coming in,” Challenger said. “The demand for more people will push wages up since their skills will be in demand.”

However, the next round of reforms, which will help curb health care costs, could negatively affect salaries or how much doctors can charge patients, Coughlan said.

At Greater Baltimore Medical Center, there’s no shortage of job applications, said Deloris Tuggle, vice president of human resources and organizational development. GBMC, maintaining about a 3 percent vacancy rate, receives more than 50,000 job applications a year, she said.

“But a lot of speciality positions remain difficult to recruit for,” Tuggle said. She added she anticipates a nursing shortage in the coming years, but growth in home health care.

Overall, the health care industry has shown consistent, uninterrupted growth, even through the eyes of the most recent recession, Goodman said.

“It helps to be in an area like Baltimore where there are multiple companies and institutions that need people with those kinds of skills,” Challenger said.

At Johns Hopkins University, health care-related majors — biomedical engineering and public health studies — rank in two of the three most popular undergraduate degree programs, said Amy Lundy, a spokeswoman at the university.

With proximity to nationally ranked hospitals and and research institutions, research and education in the Baltimore and Washington area remains strong, Challenger said. He added demand for education workers would grow in the next decade as more people seek skills that come with a college degree.

Though some may say the high wages drive more students to apply for health-related majors and programs, local university students like Meghann Ryan said salary has little to do with their interest in the field.

Ryan, a biology major at UMBC, said she has always been interested in medicine and genetic engineering and is considering attending medical school after graduation.

“I would go for a position regardless of the amount of financial compensation, since anything in the field of medicine is something I am passionate about,” Ryan said. “I feel like it’s more important to find an occupation that truly interests you,, something that you want to spend time doing and is rewarding to you.”

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