Climbing the Federal Ladder

New nurses can prepare for jobs in the government sector

The job market is in a state of flux, and that scenario is no different for the nation’s largest employer: the federal government. For those interested in securing a position in the federal government, there are a few insider tips that will help get you hired and prepare you for success.
“Historically, government jobs were viewed as stable and flexible with good benefits and lots of opportunity for time off. The drawbacks included decreased levels of personal control and capped earning potential, “said Carole Hersey Bergeron, PhD, RN, academic program manager of Healthcare MBA, Malcolm Baldrige School of Business, at Post University in Waterbury, Conn. Bergeron is also the former executive director of the Connecticut Nurses’ Association.

While some of these descriptors may still be accurate, Bergeron explained, the government’s increased focus on efficiencies, successful outcomes, evidence-based problem-solving and decision making, innovation, organizational change and doing more with less, calls the status quo into question.

“Additionally, federal and state budgets have been balanced in recent years by instituting governmental employee furlough days, freezes in hiring, and other strategies to reduce costs while increasing operational expectations,” she said. “I don’t see an end to these practices in the near future, if ever.”

A position in the federal sector may be attractive to job seekers because it is stable and exciting and there is opportunity to relocate while maintaining connection through the government. But, with changes taking place in healthcare and most other settings, the government is not immune to progress.

“Traditional settings are also changing rapidly,” said Bergeron. “There are no sure things anywhere.”

The criteria that a person might have used to opt for a government job in the past may no longer be accurate. Some of these outdated notions include a good benefits package, secure retirement plan, and not having to work too hard, according to Bergeron.

“Federal healthcare jobs are desirable and competitive but these healthcare professionals work hard and tend to see more patients than typical healthcare practitioners,” said Kathryn K. Troutman, president and founder of The Resume Place, Inc. and Federal Career Training Institute.

Troutman helps healthcare professionals consider employment in federal healthcare. Federal jobs are attractive to many of her clients because of stability, career growth and regular salary increases.

According to Troutman, starting salaries for federal jobs hover around $60,000 and employees may receive annual salary increases based on performance.

Government Job Growth

According to Where the Jobs Are: Mission Critical Opportunities for America, a report published in 2007 by Partnership for Public Service, healthcare jobs expected to grow in demand from 2008 to 2018 include:

  • Home health audes (50% growth)
  • Medical assistants (33.9%)
  • Registered nurses (22%)
  • Physicians and surgeons (21.8%)
  • Licensed practical nurses (LPN) and licensed vocational nurses (LVN) (20.7%)
  • Nursing aides, orderlies and attendants (18.8%)

The contributing factors for these increases include an aging population, complex chronic conditions presented by increasing age, the expectation that seniors can remain in their homes and not have to be treated in medical facilities, and the advent of Healthcare Reform, explained Bergeron.

The healthcare sector will see a proliferation of jobs related to security, compliance and enforcement to address personal safety as well as electronic security, compliance with regulations and enforcement of standards, regulations and performance expectation, shared Bergeron.

“There will also be an increase in information technology jobs due to the focus on integrated healthcare and collaboration to best serve the needs of the specific patient: think eHealth record,” she explained.

Bergeron has observed more interest and intensity in the public sector recently. She attributes this renewed interest to Healthcare Reform, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, increasing expectations of safety and quality in healthcare settings and a focus on innovation and creativity.

“All of a sudden, what might have been viewed as typically dull, rote, repetitive or bureaucratic, is more focused on influencing and initiating change,” she explained.

Breaking into the Government Sector

Bergeron suggests interested job seekers begin with a quick internet search using any number of keywords: government job, healthcare job, or names of specific state department agencies such as Department of Public Health and Consumer Protection Agency. “This type of search will bring up hundreds of possibilities,” she said. “There are also offices in every state that deal with human resources for the government jobs within the state.”

Job seekers should also turn to personal contacts to provide connections and keep in mind that some states still post job openings in newspapers. “And be prepared. A candidate needs a clear understanding of the education, experience, competencies and specific licenses required for roles in the healthcare sector,” Bergeron said.

Troutman has discovered applicants who aren’t hired for positions they are truly qualified for typically lack an appropriate resume. “Many resumes are too short and don’t clearly present the individual’s qualifications and certifications,” she explained.

“Government job announcements make the qualifications they are looking for in a candidate very clear. Job applicants need to make sure they match these qualifications in their resumes.”

According to Bergeron, the position a candidate is qualified for in the government doesn’t always translate to the traditional sector. Candidates are often hired for lower-level functions in the government and then expected to work their way up.

“Unless, of course, the candidate’s background would qualify them for an upper level position immediately,” she said.

With rapid changes in the healthcare sector impacting all areas of government in various ways, career advancement along professional lines would be a logical goal. “Like any good employer, the government, whether federal or local, would want to invest in its employees to ensure that they have the opportunity to maintain and enhance their competencies,” Bergeron concluded.


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