sealPurdue News

March 1997

Changing roles in health care broaden opportunities

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- Job opportunities in the health care industry are growing, especially for nurses and pharmacists with advanced degrees.

By the start of the next century, the number of jobs for nurses with advanced degrees will be twice the supply. According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, there will be 392,000 jobs for nurses with master's and doctoral degrees, but only 185,000 will be in the work force.

"This is only one of the indications -- although it may be the most startling -- that the health care industry offers promising futures in a variety of fields," says Sandra Irvin, assistant head of student affairs in the Purdue University School of Nursing.

Dan Mezibov, director of public affairs for the association of colleges of nursing, explains the demand for people with advanced degrees this way: "In large part, this need is due to the trend in hospitals to have fewer inpatients and the move toward primary care. In addition, more nurses with doctoral degrees are needed as researchers and to fulfill an increasing demand for faculty at nursing schools."

A 1996 U.S. Department of Labor study forecasts that registered nurses who graduate with a bachelor's degree also will be in great demand. While the national average salary for all nursing employees is $40,000, the average starting salary among Purdue nursing graduates is $35,000.

"Our most recent placement numbers indicate that 44 of the 65 graduates from May 1996 have found employment. The remaining 21 did not reply to our survey," Irvin says.

The Labor Department study says a continuing trend away from hospital-based care means that more nurses will be needed to fill openings in home health, long-term and ambulatory care. It also forecasts that the number of jobs in the health care industry as a whole will increase by as much as 35 percent during the decade that ends in 2005. Total job growth in the U.S. economy during that same period is forecast at about 13 percent.

The study attributes much of the job growth in health care to the demand created by an increasing elderly and disabled population. Not only are the number of job openings in the health industry growing, the traditional definitions of these jobs are expanding as well.

For example, Patrick George, associate director of student services at Purdue's School of Pharmacy, says: "Pharmacy is a profession in transition, and what we're doing here at Purdue is emphasizing the doctorate in pharmacy."

At the moment, pharmacy graduates are in high demand. At Purdue, their starting salaries and placement rates are among the highest at the university.

Of 122 May graduates from Purdue's five-year pharmacy program, all but six had found jobs or enrolled in graduate study within five months of their graduation. Starting salaries for 101 of them who answered a Purdue questionnaire averaged $54,578. Actual salaries ranged from $28,992 to $65,000.

George, a registered pharmacist, says: "Pharmacy has been a profession stereotyped by an image of the person standing behind a drug store counter in a white lab coat. But there are so many other things pharmacists do, such as hospital pharmacy, nuclear pharmacy, industrial pharmacy and consulting. It's important to know that people will always need us, and we are the most accessible health care professional."

According to George, the behind-the-counter role has been affected by the increasing number of pharmacy technicians and automation of prescription filling. The expanded role for pharmacists sometimes includes allowing pharmacists to set the dosage for patients' prescriptions, advising individuals on other health matters, and generally interacting more with patients.

CONTACTS: Irvin, (765) 494-4008
George, (765) 494-1357
Mezibov, (202) 463-6930 ; e-mail,
Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096; e-mail,

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