Creating Opportunity, Equity, and Impact in Healthcare Careers
The last two years have shone a bright light on the critical need for robust healthcare infrastructure and equitable access to healthcare. Prior to the onset of the pandemic, the country was experiencing a nursing shortage—Washington state included—according to the Washington State Nurses Association. Couple that with the nearly constant demand for healthcare professionals as our community cares for those during COVID-19, and we are looking at a workforce sector that is short-staffed, exhausted, and still in high demand.
According to the Washington STEM Labor Market and Credential Data Dashboard, there are approximately 8,000 in-demand family-wage healthcare jobs and, in our state, there are not enough qualified people to fill these jobs. Not only is there abundant economic opportunity in the healthcare field here in Washington, but there are many different pathways to those family-wage jobs. Two- and four-year degrees, along with certifications and apprenticeships can all lead to family-wage, STEM careers in a variety of healthcare contexts.
Creating positive impact through STEM and Healthcare
The economic opportunity in STEM and healthcare is clear, but beyond the numbers, Washington students have the opportunity to pursue the kinds of careers that can truly create impact in their communities, and across the world. Jobs range from medical assistants, phlebotomists, respiratory therapists, and registered nurses, to family medicine physicians, nurse practitioners and more. Many of the jobs can be found through small and large employers across Washington.
Among those top employers, Kaiser Permanente of Washington sees hundreds of job openings a year in these careers. “The healthcare industry relies heavily on a workforce replete with STEM skills. Basic math and science skills are necessary for many positions, and advanced skills in those areas are imperative for those pursuing careers in the medical field,” said Jocelynne McAdory, Vice President of Human Resources for Kaiser Permanente Washington. These kinds of jobs can help students have a direct impact on the communities they are from and can provide the essential services that families across Washington need to live full, healthy lives.
Not only is there significant opportunity in Washington to create real impact in every region through STEM in healthcare careers, but our state is also home to research scientists that are changing the lives of communities, families, and people, all across the world with their work. One such example is Lisa Jackson, MD, MPH. Dr. Jackson serves as a senior investigator for the Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute (KPWHRI) and is an internist and infectious disease epidemiologist. Much of her work centers on vaccine safety and efficacy. Among her many accomplishments, Dr. Jackson led a phase 1 clinical trial of the COVID-19 vaccine developed by Moderna and the National Institute of Health (NIH). This effort was the first in the world to begin testing a vaccine during the global pandemic. And if that wasn’t enough, Dr. Jackson also led the phase 3 trials of the vaccine development by Moderna and NIH and by Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies, part of Johnson & Johnson, at KPWHRI. It’s also worth noting that Dr. Jackson received her Master of Public Health here in our state at the University of Washington.
Driving equity in healthcare careers through partnership
With so much opportunity available to students in Washington, we must ask, is this opportunity distributed equitably among our students? The data says no. According to the U.S. Department of Education and the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System, in 2019 there were a total of 16,344 healthcare degrees or certificates awarded in Washington, but of those degrees Hispanic and Black students only received 2,951 of those credentials, compared to the 8,885 credentials earned by their white counterparts. This is where Washington STEM and our partners like Kaiser Permanente come in. Together, we’re helping change our education and healthcare systems so that students of color, rural students, and students from low-income backgrounds can access the jobs we’ve been highlighting. For example, Washington STEM has been partnering with Kaiser Permanente in the development of their POC Health Careers Ecosystems – a program specifically meant to create a pipeline for students of color working on advanced medical degrees to access leadership positions in the healthcare space.
In addition to Kaiser Permanente of Washington’s work in the POC Health Careers Ecosystem, Kaiser Permanente launched the Medical Assistant (MA) Apprenticeship program in 2019 in partnership with SEIU Healthcare 1199NW Multi-Employer Training and Education Fund. This program provides participants with on-the-job training over 12–24 months and related supplemental classroom instruction. This apprenticeship provides a career pathway to one of the fastest growing STEM fields, access to family wage jobs, the opportunity to “earn while you learn”, and students advance with a valuable post-high school credential that can create future opportunities in the healthcare fields. Apprentices who complete the program are guaranteed a MA position at Kaiser Permanente.