Industry Spotlight: Healthcare

Healthcare is currently one of the hottest industries in the nation for job hunters. Even if your military occupational specialty (MOS) was not in this area, there are plenty of open doors to gain training and education in any number of the burgeoning healthcare fields. This field offers long-term job stability, as the nation becomes “older” with aging Baby Boomers.

Employment in healthcare occupations is projected to grow a whopping 19 percent – much faster than the average for all occupations, according to the Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics. Expect to see 2.3 million new jobs by 2024.
Veterans bring unique skills and personal qualities to this industry. “Because of your commitment to public service, it is not difficult to find a career where you see the direct impact of your work,” said Richard Sebastian, former petty officer (PO2) with the United States Navy. Sebastian separated from the Navy in 1994 and has worked in physical therapy ever since. “The physical therapy industry alone has a 34 percent projected 10-year job growth, which means jobs will be plentiful even a decade from now,” Sebastian said.

To launch your job search in any of the healthcare job niches, Sebastian offers this advice:

“I would start by building a professional network on one of the professional sites like LinkedIn. Doing this will help you to connect with former and current mentors and to be able to talk to and communicate with people in the area or areas that you are interested in,” said Sebastian, who is regional director at ATI Physical Therapy, headquartered in Bolingbrook, IL.

Even better, with some areas like physical therapy, you will automatically be a hot commodity, he added.
“If you make it through physical therapy school and pass the licensure exam, you won’t have to worry about contacting employers because they will most likely reach you first. The field is growing, and there is a shortage of qualified physical therapists,” he said.

Obviously, physical therapy is not the only option available. There are plenty of other occupations in the healthcare industry that feed into or support medical professionals. Some examples:

- Diagnostic Medical Sonographers operate special imaging equipment to help physicians diagnose medical conditions.
- Dieticians and Nutritionists are experts at using food to promote health and manage disease.
- Emergency Medical Technicians and Paramedics care for the sick and injured in emergency settings.
- Medical Transcriptionists convert physicians’ voice recordings into written report.

Let’s delve into a couple of the higher growth healthcare specialties you might want to explore, the qualifications you need as a veteran, and education or training you will need to reach your professional goals: nursing and physical therapy.


Employment for both registered nurses (RNs) and licensed practical nurses (LPNs) is projected to grow 16 percent by 2024, another faster-than-average pace. The national average salary for LPNs, who provide basic nursing care, is $44,090. For RNs, who give more advanced treatment, the average annual salary is $68,450.

“There will always be individuals who need medical care and education concerning their illness,” said Associate Professor in the Department of Nursing for the Metropolitan State University of Denver Jean Rother, MS, RN. “Also, as our population continues to age, geriatric nursing in caring for the elderly will expand by leaps and bounds. It’s an excellent field.”

Most people think of nursing in a hospital setting, but there are ample opportunities available in all kinds of work spaces - from nursing homes, to school nurse offices, to clinics in far-flung rural areas with little to no healthcare options.

“If you live in a rural area, one great option is to become a nurse practitioner (NP). You get a master’s degree and obtain professional certification, work with a physician, and prescribe medications. Most patients are seeing them now,” Rother said.

Another area is psychiatric nurses, or advanced practice registered nurse (APRN), whose average annual salaries are about $88,000, according to PayScale. In this occupation, you might work with senior citizens who suffer with bipolar disease or schizophrenia. You could also use this specialty training to work at the VA Clinic and work on a unit for those suffering with PTSD.

“Nursing is no longer a female-dominated field,” Rother added, “especially as more veterans who served as medics pursue nursing jobs.

“We are seeing more and more males every year. That’s a new trend,” she said. “Experience as a medic would be a very good transition to the field of nursing. Nurses need excellent communication skills, the ability to work alone or with others on the team, critical thinking, a tolerance for stress, flexibility, compassion, and to be physically fit,” she said.
To Break In …

Here is a summary of the training you need for various levels of nursing:

- The Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) or Licensed Vocational Nurse (LVN) do not require a college degree. However, training would involve attending an accredited vocation school or community college. You must pass an accreditation exam to become licensed, and the length of time for this education is seven to 24 months.
- Associate Degree Nurse (ADN) requires students to attend a vocational school or community college, and the length of time to complete this degree is 18 to 24 months. Graduates are eligible to take the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN).
- Registered Nurse (RN) requires a bachelor’s degree. Talk to the academic advisor at your university on how you can pursue it. For example, at Metropolitan State University of Denver, there are two nursing programs. “The traditional nursing option (TNO) is a four-year B.S. nursing program. Students are accepted into the TNO nursing courses in the junior and senior year. Graduates are eligible to apply to take the NCLEX-RN,” said Rother. “On the other hand, the accelerated nursing option is a 17-month, semester-based program. It is designed to offer students who have a non-nursing baccalaureate degree the opportunity to earn a B.S. in Nursing. Graduates from this program are also eligible to apply to take the NCLEX-RN.”

**Physical Therapy**

“Physical therapy can be a wide open field for veterans with the right training, and even for those with no training at all,” Sebastian said. “It is also important to find a physical therapy provider, such as ATI Physical Therapy, who strongly supports and encourages veterans to develop and grow their careers in the physical therapy field,” he added.

There are many jobs in the field, such as a physical therapist, physical therapy assistant, rehabilitation technician, patient service specialist, and business development manager. The average salary for physical therapists is $85,400. For physical therapist assistants and aides, who work under the supervision of the physical therapist, the average salary is $45,290.

Physical therapy is broken up into three main categories: inpatient, outpatient, and home health.

- Inpatient physical therapy is usually done in the hospital or rehabilitation center and consists of getting a patient healthy enough to return home after an injury or surgery.
- Outpatient physical therapy is done when a patient can be brought to a facility by themselves or with family to receive care. Outpatient therapy has several subspecialties such as sports medicine, orthopedics, geriatrics, and so on.
- Home health physical therapy is done when a patient is at home because they are unable to go to an outpatient rehabilitation center, due to health issues. In this case, the therapist will go to the patient’s house and perform therapy with the purpose of helping the patient grow strong enough to go to outpatient physical therapy.

“Physical therapy is one of the jobs commonly known for the highest levels of job satisfaction. This is because one of the most satisfying components of a job is helping people to achieve their goals,” Sebastian said.

A physical therapist must be able to balance many tasks and lead a team to help maximize the benefits and outcomes for each patient. “If you enjoy being a part of a team to help a patient reach their goals, then physical therapy is the right profession for you,” Sebastian said.

“The military, in my opinion, is a perfect training ground for future physical therapists. The military conditions you to be sensitive to time and work in a regimented environment, while also training you to be in a leadership role,” Sebastian added.

**To Break In …**

“If you are interested in breaking in, becoming a rehab tech or aide would allow you the opportunity to see how a clinic operates,” Sebastian said.

If you are a military physical therapist already, you can work almost anywhere in the country without having to look too hard for a job.

“Physical therapy jobs are in high demand. Sign-on bonuses and other incentives are common practice in order to get the highest qualified individuals,” Sebastian said.

*Heidi Lynn Russell is a freelance writer based in Lexington, KY. She has been writing about employment issues affecting military veterans and spouses for the past 15 years.*