Two years ago, Sophia Nyswyn graduated from Idaho State University-Meridian Health Science Center and landed a job in Meridian as a physician assistant.
She represents a growing number of people who work in the city’s health care industry. Other than education, health care is the city’s largest employer, providing jobs for about one-tenth of the workforce.
Plus, health care jobs pay more — $57,670 a year on average — and are growing at a faster rate than most jobs in southwest Idaho, according to the Idaho Department of Labor and the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
“The opportunities are growing, the health care field is expanding,” said Nyswyn. Her workplace — St. Luke’s Health System Mountain States Urology in Meridian — and other clinics in the Eagle Road area have opened up new positions for PAs in recent years, she said.
Dr. Randy Rostock of Meridian, a St. Luke’s clinical pharmacist and ISU-Meridian grad, also sees a “tremendous” amount of growth in his field and several opportunities for aspiring pharmacists, he said.
But, preparing for the job may call for some sacrifices. Rostock spent years in school and has student loans that add up to almost $100,000.
“I would say it’s definitely worth it,” Rostock said. “In the end ultimately you’re going to pick career that you’re going to be with for at least 20 years. … I think it’s a great opportunity right now.”
Why the growth in health care jobs?
Population growth in both Ada and Canyon counties boosts demand for health care employees.
“There’s a significant number of patients that drive from Canyon County to Meridian,” St. Luke’s Health System Chief Financial Officer Jeff Taylor said, noting that Meridian has the busiest emergency department in the state.
More than 1,500 people work at St. Luke’s Meridian hospital, and that number grows by 5 to 10 percent every year, he said. Plus about 25 new jobs will open up this winter when the hospital opens its new surgery center.
“Meridian is key to our planning efforts going forward,” Taylor said. “And when you think about its location, it’s essentially the epicenter of the Treasure Valley, and we grow with the population.”
Another factor in the health care industry’s growth is an aging Baby Boomer population that requires more medical services, such as personal and home aides — one of the fastest growing occupations in southwest Idaho, DOL reports.
But aides are also among health care’s lowest paying occupations, with a median hourly wage of $9.44.
Thirdly, the Affordable Care Act could prompt hiring by health-related companies like health insurance provider Blue Cross of Idaho. Blue Cross is preparing to increase its staff of 875 employees if new health insurance requirements spur customer demand, spokeswoman Karen Early said.
Med-tech industry is ‘stable economic base’
The medical-technical industry is becoming more robust in Meridian, especially along the Eagle Road/Pine Avenue corridor. Drive down Eagle Road north of the freeway and you’ll see St. Luke’s, several health clinics, med-tech manufacturer PKG, Inc. and more. Not far off, Idaho State University-Meridian is developing a new anatomy and physiology lab, which will be a “huge addition to the health care economy and health care education,” The CORE Chairman Earl Sullivan said.
The CORE is a coalition that exists to strengthen Idaho’s med-tech industry. The city of Meridian and ISU-Meridian founded The CORE roughly five years ago, and it’s now grown to about 30 members, ranging from hospitals to insurers to banks.
“In general the effect of The CORE has been an increase in awareness of the opportunities that exist ... and connecting people who have ideas, issues or other opportunities with other members of The CORE,” Sullivan said. “... There’s a real opportunity to create a lasting, stable economic base in Idaho that just doesn’t easily pull its stakes … and leave the Valley.”
The CORE Members, Aug. 2013
AceCo - Precision Manufacturing
Ada County Commissioners
All Valley Veterinary
Bank of the Cascades
Boise State University
Blue Cross of Idaho
City of Meridian
Eagle Road Professional Center
Idaho Council of Governments
Idaho State University
Idaho Technology Council
Idaho Urologic Institute
Joint School District No. 2
Johnson Brothers Hospitality
Matt Joyce, MD PA
On Demand Solutions, Inc.
RBC Wealth Management
Saint Alphonsus Hospital
St. Luke's Health System
University of Idaho
Washington Trust Bank