Published on July 04, 2013

St. Vincent's Clay County job fair lures 1,000 plus jobseekers

By Sarah Wakefield Rosser and Weston Williams, Clay Today

With applications in hand like tickets for the next county fair ride, about 1,300 people waited in the Middleburg High cafeteria.

However, these lines were not for roller coasters. The fair they had come to was not for pleasure. There were no beaming lights or fried Oreos. And only 180 of them would get to ride.

It was a job fair, held by St. Vincent’s Medical Center Clay County on June 27 to fill the 180 positions needed at their new location in Middleburg. Hospital officials had expected a turnout of about 500 workers seeking jobs at their hospital under construction at 1545 Branan Field Rd. They packed the cafeteria crowded in lines circling the room, resembling a movie premier or a Black Friday sales event.

Salaries for new graduates with a two-year nursing degree will earn around $25,000, but Director of Operations for St. Vincent’s Clay County Tracy Williams said the average pay is more than double. Registered Emergency Room nurses can earn more than $73,000 with two decades experience.

"The averaged salaried worker will make about $55,000," Williams said, whose background is in physical therapy.

She said 40 percent of the Clay positions will be filled by transferring employees from the hospital’s Riverside or Southside campuses in Jacksonville. The remaining 60 percent or 180 available positions will be outside hires. Williams said she saw a good mix of 20-something graduates, men and women.

"I’ve interviewed folks with 15 to 20 years of experience and I’ve also met with folks that graduated this spring," Williams said. "We want a full mix. It’s nice to have experienced nurses to mentor and train someone just starting out."

Positions in the emergency room, intensive care unit, operating room and scrub technicians are open, as well as many others. Training for new hires will begin in September, depending on the job. For some seeking work, the job fair was daunting.

"It’s kind of scary," said Chris Breault, 53, of Orange Park, a construction worker applying for a maintenance position. "People are out of work. I mean look at the lines, it’s crazy. It’s my first job fair in over a year and I never had a wait like this."

Breault – who has only a high school education – was one of the few hoping to secure employment with the new hospital that is on track to open in October. A good majority of his competitors were fresh out of college, and a few less than that were currently employed medical practitioners.

"I’ve been working construction all my life … and I say ‘Ya’ know, maybe something with air conditioning would be nice’," Breault said. "Whether it be part of maintenance, or cooking. It’d be nice to have benefits, good hours, and the ease to get to the job."

Breault said his wife thinks he should go into radiology, but admits that’s a tough proposition after having been out of school for 35 years.

On the other end of the spectrum Mathew Pierce of Orange Park, a medical assistant, had a more optimistic view on the lines’ intimidating numbers.

"I’ve been with 21st Century Oncology for a year, and I’ve got kids in school at Ridgeview, Pines, and Wilkinson," Pierce said. "There are several St. Vincent’s locations, primary care, clinics, all close to home. It’d be nice to be so close to the house."

Pierce, and his wife, waited at the tables in the cafeteria filling out their applications, waiting for their number to be called for their opportunity to try and stand out from the thousands of applicants around them. While some applicants were uneasy about the process, Kristin Abruscato, a paramedic, was in favor of the chance for a close encounter.

"It’s trying to get a bunch of people together instead of having everyone apply online," Abruscato said. "With the hundreds of applicants you get a chance to get a face to face, and to prove your merit over someone else."

Positions in the emergency room, intensive care unit, operating room and scrub technicians are open, as well as many others.

"Some may train directly at Clay because the newer, more updated equipment is there," said System Manager Paula Hicks. "Others will train at our Riverside or Southside campuses."

Although most of the positions will be available at St. Vincent’s Clay County, Williams said she was interviewing for openings or traveling positions.

"Some of the positions at Clay might be needed for two days, but they may be able to stay full time and take shifts at our two other locations to make it full time," Williams said. "Some departments only require a small staff, but if someone in that position wants to take a vacation, they have the backing of two hospitals behind them to step in and help."

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