Michael LaVoie
Longtime Roundup Memorial Hospital nurse Michael LaVoie, right, works at the nurses’ station. Photo by LARRY MAYER/Billings Gazette

ROUNDUP - Michael Lavoie isn't in danger of losing his job, but if he did, he's not worried about finding a new one.

LaVoie, 52, is a registered nurse at Roundup Memorial Hospital. Nursing is the nearest thing there is to a recession-proof job, he and others say, and it has one of the highest projections for growth of any profession.

"If anything, over time, my skills are going to be more valuable," he said. "Being a nurse, I can work where I want to live. If I decided to leave Montana, it doesn't matter where I go, I can get a job."

LaVoie isn't planning on leaving Montana, and he enjoys his job at the Roundup hospital, where he's worked for most of the past 15 years. He's also a part-time nursing instructor at Montana State University Billings.

The program, which accepts 40 new students each year into its nursing programs, is "turning down qualified applicants every year,"he said. Health care has been one of the more resilient sectors of the economy in Montana, with few layoffs the past year and a relatively strong job market for many in the business.

In fact, hospitals and health-care facilities, particularly those in rural areas,usually have had more trouble filling open positions than otherwise. However, with the recession, employee turnover in the health-care industry has been lower in Montana, as more people prefer to stay at their obs, health-care officials said.

"There haven't been any changes in our nursing staff," said Lavoie. "But we don't really have anybody extra. If we have vacations or anyone out sick, we have to scramble to get it covered."

LaVoie is one of a dozen or so nurses on staff at the Roundup hospital and its facilities, which include a clinic and nursing home. LaVoie also has noticed that while graduates from the MSU Billings nursing program are still finding work, they may not get the exact job they want, in the location they want.

LPNs usually start around $12 an hour, while registered nurses can command $20 an hour, he says. Lavoie said he's seeing more people enter nursing as a second career, looking for something that will provide a sure job and a steady income.

"It's projected right now that by 2020, there will be 1 million positions vacant for registered nurses in the country," he said. "And the other side of that issue, the baby boomers are aging. As they age, we're going to need more nursing. "I don't see any problem keeping my job."

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