Health care forum

Healthcare Opportunities — The STEM Work Force No One Talks About

Michael Norris, Chief Operating Officer & Market President, Sodexo Corporate Services

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, software developer is the most common science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) occupation with more than 80 percent of STEM workers employed in computer occupations or engineering. But STEM careers are broader than those two occupations. Not only is STEM education vital to the healthcare industry, it’s central to two professions that support healthcare that no one seems to talk about.

Maybe not for long: according to myfuture.com, clinical nutrition and clinical technology management are projected to grow 21 percent and 30 percent from 2012 to 2022 respectively, much faster than the average for all occupations. These services are part of Sodexo’s core food and facilities management quality of life solutions.

With the realization that food is a big part of health and well-being, particularly as part of preventive healthcare in medical settings, the role of dietitians and clinical nutrition managers has become increasingly important. As the largest private employer of clinical nutrition professionals in the United States, Sodexo dietitians prevent and treat illnesses by promoting healthy eating habits and recommending dietary modifications in hospitals and retirement communities, schools and businesses.

Some clinical dietitians specialize in helping patients manage their weight or in the care of renal (kidney), diabetic or critically ill patients through Sodexo’s Medical Nutrition Therapy initiative. The Medicare MNT benefits regulations define medical nutrition therapy (MNT) as “nutritional diagnostic, therapy, and counseling services provided by a registered dietitian or nutrition professional for the purpose of managing disease.”   

Students pursuing a career in clinical nutrition study chemistry, biochemistry, biology, microbiology and physiology, augmented with courses in business, mathematics, statistics, computer science, psychology, sociology and economics. Dietitians obtain a Bachelors’ degree and complete an internship before they take the registrant exam. By 2024, new education standards will require a Master’s degree to be a registered dietitian in the U.S.

In anticipation of this new standard, the Sodexo Dietetic Internship program is partnering with the University of Rhode Island to provide a Master of Science in Dietetics for Sodexo dietetic interns. This program is designed to complement and enhance the learning in the supervised practice rotations. Courses will be taught in seven-week sessions and will emphasize science, technology and math.

The field of clinical technology management in healthcare is just as important. Greater demand for healthcare services and the development of increasingly complex medical equipment will drive employment growth in this field. With the expected increase in the number of older adults and with people living longer, health professionals are prescribing more medical tests that use new, complex equipment.

Students entering biomedical technology study a range of STEM subjects from electronics to human anatomy to advanced troubleshooting concepts for biomedical instrumentation. These skilled technicians ensure that CAT Scanners, MRIs, ultrasound and other diagnostic equipment is available 24/7 to serve patients and keep hospitals in full operation. They also maintain and repair the sophisticated machines that diagnose and treat problems in dentistry and optometry, among other specialties. Other technicians maintain and repair the electric beds and wheelchairs that are central to the patient experience.

I think the moral of this story is that STEM education offers a multitude of career opportunities beyond computer occupations and engineering. The more we strengthen and embed STEM in high school curricula, and inspire students to pursue STEM careers in more fields, the stronger our economy will become.

 

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