The healthcare industry gained 42,000 jobs in January, according to the latest U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics numbers. That's a drop from 52,000 added in December, which was a record-breaking month for healthcare job growth.
For January, ambulatory services continued showing the best growth of the sector with 22,000 jobs. Hospitals gained 19,000 jobs, which was a huge jump from 7,400 a month earlier.
Overall, the healthcare sector has picked up 368,000 jobs in the past 12 months.
Healthcare wasn't the only area that saw job growth in the first month of 2019. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported increases in leisure and hospitality, construction, transportation and warehousing, too. The January numbers showed 304,000 nonfarm payroll employment jobs added for the month. The unemployment rate increased slightly to 4%.
The healthcare industry added 346,000 jobs from December 2017 to December 2018, an increase from 284,000 jobs the previous year.
About 11% of the country's jobs are connected to the industry. The Bureau of Labor Statistics expects that to grow 18% by 2026 as Americans grow older and need more care.
In one example, Banner Health recently said it plans to fill 1,500 job openings in Arizona and Colorado. A major focus for Banner is nurses, including in behavioral health and ICU departments.
Healthcare jobs are also often seen as plum positions. U.S. News & World Report's recent 2019 Best Jobs analysis had healthcare positions in 44 of the top 100 jobs. The industry also had most of the best-paying jobs list. U.S. News & World Report said the sector's dominance on the top lists is related to "high salaries and low unemployment rates."
Despite the growth, there are concerns on the horizon. Nurses and primary care physicians are two areas that may soon face shortages. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts a nursing shortage of more than 1 million nurses by 2022 despite projecting that registered nurses will grow 15% by 2026. The aging U.S. population will more than offset those registered nurse gains in the coming years.
Healthcare employer costs are also an issue. A recent analysis by Bay Alarm Medical found that healthcare employers are spending nearly 15% more on employee benefits and wellbeing than they did 15 years ago.
This is a pressing concern for health leaders. A 2018 Healthcare Financial Management Association/Navigant survey found that 78% of healthcare leaders predicted their organization's labor budget would increase over the next year and 18% said the increase would be more than 5%. In response, nearly half of those surveyed said they're targeting labor expenses to reduce operating costs.