IF anything in life is certain, it's that at one point or another, we all need some help to take care of our health.
It’s no surprise, then, that healthcare and social assistance is Australia’s largest and fastest growing industry. The sector currently employs 1.5 million people, and that number is set to explode over the next few decades, as our population ages and our health needs evolve.
But in an era of rapid technological change, what will the healthcare system of the next 20 or 30 years look like? And what does that mean for those of us who want to make a career out of health?
According to CSIRO’s 2018 ‘Future of Health’ report, the biggest shift on the horizon will be to our overall concept of health and wellbeing: think less treatment, more prevention.
And while technology will play its part, Professor John Lowe, who leads USC’s School of Health and Sport Sciences, says its role will be to enhance – rather than replace – human-centred care.
“Over the past few years, we’ve seen huge growth in technologies that are designed to help people understand and manage their own health, such as fitness trackers or mindfulness apps,” Professor Lowe says.
“Because these are so widespread, it’s easy to imagine that smartphones and wearable devices will be the future of healthcare, and to think less about the human side.
“But as our health needs become increasingly complex, and we’re exposed to more and more information, the expertise of health professionals will only become more important.”
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The healthcare and social assistance sector takes in a huge range of professions, which means increasing opportunities in both new and existing jobs.
The Australian Government’s Job Outlook forecast predicts strong growth across the board, from psychologists and counsellors to biomedical scientists and community health workers.
Australia’s growing – and ageing – population means we’ll need more doctors and medical specialists, particularly in regional areas like the Sunshine Coast. USC’s Bachelor of Medical Science is currently training the region’s first crop of local medical students, who’ll receive provisional direct entry to Griffith University’s Doctor of Medicine at the Sunshine Coast University Hospital.
At the same time, the shift to a more holistic model of care will involve a mix of health disciplines: for example, an occupational therapist, social worker and dietitian working together. This means we’ll also need people who are skilled in leadership within the health sector, to manage teams and ensure patients receive the best care.
We’ll also need more nurses and paramedics on the front lines. Student’s in USC’s Bachelor of Paramedic Science and Bachelor of Nursing Science are already using technology to prepare for this, thanks to state-of-the-art visualisation facilities that let them practice their skills in a classroom that looks exactly like the ambulances or hospital wards where they’ll work in the future.
And for those who want to impact health outcomes on a broader scale, there are growing areas like health promotion, health communication and applied environmental health – jobs that will become more important as the world grapples with increased life expectancies and the impacts of climate change.
While technology is likely to play a role throughout the sector – from online health screening through to artificial intelligence that helps medical teams choose between treatment options – Professor Lowe says we’ll also see an increasing focus on skills like critical thinking, empathy and communication: things a robot or app can’t always provide.
“At the end of the day, the aim of healthcare is to enhance people’s quality of life, and everyone who works in the industry around the world shares in that goal,” he says.
“Technology can help us get there, but it’s that caring aspect of the profession that can’t be outsourced, and that’s what will become more valuable in the future.”