Cover photo: HCC radiologic technology student Amy Bulger.
Demand for trained health care providers is on the rise. And meeting this demand is critical to our wellness, quality of life, and our economic strength, according to Dr. Sharon Pierce, Howard Community College (HCC) vice president of academic affairs.
Dr. Pierce is an expert in health care quality management and delivery. She was previously director of HCC’s acclaimed nursing program, chair of the college’s health sciences division, and a clinical nurse in a variety of settings. "HCC recognizes the critical importance of educating students in health care programs," she says. "The stakes are high when lives and livelihoods hang in the balance."
The health care industry is one of the most important and stable economic engines in Maryland, according to Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development Secretary Christian Johansson. "With 383,300 jobs in the health care and social assistance sector, the industry accounts for 11 percent of all jobs in the state. This number continues to grow due to the increasing needs of an aging population, new elective health care options, and an increase in our population stimulated by the influx of Base Realignment and Closure jobs," says Johansson.
This sector has weathered the economic downturn better than most because many health care jobs cannot be automated or replaced by technology, according to Johansson. "We must continue to make resources available for this critical sector, because the availability and quality of health care affects all Marylanders," he says.
As this engine picks up speed, however, it is also encountering some bumps in the road. According to the Maryland Hospital Association and the Maryland Healthcare Education Institute, the state could have a shortage of 10,000 nurses by 2016. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services says the current public health workforce is inadequate to meet the health needs of the U.S. population and projects shortages to reach 250,000 nationwide by 2020.
As receipt of quality health care continues to be of critical concern in the U.S., HCC remains at the forefront of innovative health care training. The college has one of the largest nursing programs in the state; the first public health transfer program in the country; innovative and well-respected programs in cardiovascular technology, emergency medical services, radiologic technology, exercise science, health care for the professional, human services, aging services management, athletic training, health care management, health education, nutrition, and a variety of noncredit continuing education options designed for entry-level health care positions and professional updates in the field.
Numerous partnerships in the county and throughout the state enable the college to offer its students a high-quality health care education, which Howard County Executive Ken Ulman identifies as extremely important in today’s environment. "Central to the successful implementation of the Affordable Care Act, when millions of additional individuals will acquire health care, is a growing need to focus on health care education," says Ulman. "We can best prepare students for these increased health services demands by providing them with tools and resources in classroom settings. The county is proud to support HCC in offering these extensive opportunities to students."
Howard County General Hospital is a community resource that touches 50 percent of the families in the county each year, according to its president and CEO Vic Broccolino. "Many of our nurses and other employees come to the hospital from HCC," he says. "The college is ahead of the curve in creativity and innovation and does a wonderful job of training good people in many aspects of health care that benefit the citizens of this county."
FIRST PUBLIC HEALTH GRADUATE PURSUES PERSONAL GOALS
The Association of Schools of Public Health reports that the public health student graduation rate will need to triple over the next 12 years in order to meet projected shortages in our nation’s workforce.
Wayne Liu, one of the graduates of the first graduates of HCC’s new public health program, plans to help fill that gap.
"HCC is the first two-year college in the nation offering an arts and sciences associate of arts degree transfer program in public health," says Jeanette Jeffrey, program coordinator and professor of public health and nutrition. "Public health focuses on saving lives at a population level through disease and injury prevention strategies. Career opportunities in this field are growing."
Liu has already gained valuable experience in the field. All of HCC’s public health majors choose from more than 80 partnering sites for direct community involvement, and Liu chose to work with the Howard County Food Bank. After his first full year of classwork, he participated in the Summer Institute for Biostatistics at North Carolina State and Duke University’s Clinical Research Institute. Liu spent last summer working at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), researching thyroid cancer, especially in children, and the effects of radiation and chemotherapy.
Liu has transferred into the public health program at The Johns Hopkins University, and he hopes to return to NIH through its fellowship program and continue working on cancer research. "My long-term goal is to get a Ph.D. in epidemiology and I might consider getting an M.D. so I can treat patients in addition to conducting research."