Seven of the 10 Hardest-to-Fill Jobs are in Health Care

Published on May 6, 2015

Updated on Nov 3, 2022

Written by Emsi Burning Glass

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This week, the American Staffing Association released a list of the top 10 hard-to-fill jobs in 2015. Of those, seven are related to health care.

  1. Occupational therapists

  2. Heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers

  3. Physical therapists

  4. Photographic process workers and processing machine operators

  5. Occupational therapy assistants

  6. Speech-language pathologists

  7. Family and general practitioners (physicians)

  8. Merchandise displayers and window trimmers

  9. Nurse practitioners

  10. Physician assistants

Using our labor market analysis tool Analyst, we took a closer look at these health care occupations, restricting our study to the 150 largest metros in the US. For each occupation, we discovered a significant gap between job postings and actual hires: the average number of job postings is way above the average number of hires, indicating a thirst for talent that businesses can’t seem to find. Related to this, we list the top MSAs for sheer number of graduates in relevant degrees for each occupation, giving some solid options for businesses trying to recruit. NOTE: If you want to see the specific schools that students are graduating from, let us know.

Occupational Therapists and Occupational Therapy Assistants

There are currently 93,000 occupational therapists in the 150 largest metros. Because there are far fewer (34,000) occupational therapy assistants nationwide, we’ll focus our analysis on just therapists.

Interestingly, companies are putting up huge numbers of job postings for occupational therapists—an average of 16,600 per month since 2011—and yet only 4,000 therapists are hired each month. This speaks to a skills gap for occupational therapists in these areas.

Some key stats for occupational therapists:

  • San Jose; Ogden, Utah; Dallas; Fresno, California; and Canton, Ohio have seen the most rapid job growth (above 30% since 2010).

  • Los Angeles, New York, Philadelphia, Orlando, and San Francisco have graduated the most people with degrees in occupational therapy.

  • Boston and Milwaukee have the highest concentrations of occupational therapist jobs. Other cities of note include Scranton, Pennsylvania; Canton, Ohio; Worcester, Massachusetts; Portland, Maine; and a handful of cities in Michigan: Ann Arbor, Flint, Kalamazoo, and Grand Rapids.

Physical Therapists

There are 168,000 physical therapist jobs, and, as with occupational therapists, there is heavy demand for more. Jobs have increased by 17% since 2010—well ahead of the national average. There has also been an impressive average of 7,300 hires per month compared to an even more impressive 20,500 postings since 2011, which speaks to the tremendous need for physical therapists. (Read our article here regarding top colleges for recruiting physical therapists.)

  • Cities like San Jose, Dallas, Phoenix, and Atlanta have seen growth over 30% since 2010.

  • The number of college graduates is greatest in Los Angeles, New York, and Philadelphia. After those three, there is a big drop off.

  • The Northeast has higher concentrations of physical therapists: New Haven and Hartford, Connecticut; Providence, Rhode Island; Boston; and Rochester are all at the top.

Speech-Language Pathologists

There are 103,000 speech-language pathologists—folks who assess and treat people with speech, language, voice, and fluency disorders—in the top metros. Since 2010, the field has increased by 9%, adding some 11,000 new jobs. On average, employers put up about 10,500 job postings for speech pathologists each month, yet hire only 4,000.

  • Larger cities with the best growth are San Jose (27%), Denver (25%), San Francisco (24%), and Dallas (21%). Smaller cities with rapid growth are Ogden, Utah; Springfield, Illinois; Myrtle Beach, South Carolina; Grand Rapids, Michigan; and Des Moines, Iowa.

  • The cities with the most recent college graduates are New York, Los Angeles, Orlando, and Philadelphia.

  • There are a handful of smaller cities with high concentrations of speech pathologists: Huntington, West Virginia; Little Rock, Arizona; Albuquerque, New Mexico; Buffalo, New York; and Youngstown, Ohio.

Family Practitioners

There are 105,000 family practitioners in the top 150 metros, growing 6.5% since 2010. Job postings have spiked this year with an average of well over 20,000 per month.

  • Large cities with rapid growth for family practitioners include Orlando, Riverside, Phoenix, and Houston, all growing more than 15% since 2010. Smaller cities with high growth are Anchorage, Alaska (24%—the most for any city); Provo, Utah; Greenville, South Carolina; Ocala, Florida; Charleston, South Carolina; and Austin, Texas.

  • The cities with the best supply of graduates are New York, Philadelphia, and Chicago.

  • The city with the greatest concentration of family practitioners is St. Louis, Missouri, with almost three times the concentration of the typical region.

Nurse Practitioners

In the top 150 metros there are 91,000 nurse practitioners, people who diagnose and treat acute, episodic, or chronic illness, either independently or as part of a healthcare team. The occupation grew by over 16% since 2010. Not surprisingly, the rapid increase in job postings in 2015 mirrors that of family practitioners; there are currently a whopping 12,000 ads out for nurse practitioners.

  • Houston, Denver, and Atlanta have seen the best job and percentage growth. Some small cities are doing well too: Killeen, Texas; Anchorage, Alaska; Provo, Utah; and Austin, Texas have all increased by over 30%.

  • New York, Philadelphia, and Chicago are leading cities for nurse practitioner graduates.

  • Nashville and Hartford are the two larger cities with the highest concentration of nurse practitioners. There are many smaller cities with pretty high concentrations: Gulfport, Mississippi; Chattanooga, Tennessee; New Haven, Connecticut; Rochester, New York; and Knoxville, Tennessee.

Physician Assistants

The final occupation is physician assistants. They provide healthcare services typically performed by a physician, but under the supervision of a physician. As with the previous two examples, job postings for physician assistants have gone up dramatically, with an average of 12,000 ads and more than 2,500 hires each month.

  • Large cities seeing the best growth are New York, Los Angeles, Houston, Atlanta, and Phoenix. Many smaller cities have also done well: Anchorage, Alaska; Killen, Texas; Myrtle Beach, South Carolina; Provo, Utah; and Austin, Texas.

  • New York, Los Angeles, and Philadelphia have the greatest number of graduates.

  • Ann Arbor has the highest concentration of physician assistants—more than three times the national average.

If you’d like to take a closer look at this data or learn which schools have the highest number of graduates for these occupations, please contact us.