11 Careers in Healthcare – Find the Best for You
If the idea of going to work and making a difference every single day sounds good, a career in healthcare may be a good path for you. It takes hard work and dedication to obtain the training and certification necessary, and each day at work may be challenging, but the rewards likely will make it all worthwhile. Learn more about the best healthcare careers that may interest you.
11 Types of Healthcare Careers You May Pursue
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that demand for healthcare professionalsExternal link:open_in_new is expected to grow by 16% through 2030. That’s potentially 2.6 million jobs—which could include doctor, nurse and technician jobs—added to the economy over the next several years.
So what does a career in healthcare look like? There are many pathways to a healthcare career—which one is the right choice for you? Below we have outlined 11 healthcare careers to consider.
Medical doctors are the people ultimately responsible for many patients’ care plans. Doctors can choose from numerous specialties, including various surgical specialties, family practice, oncology, anesthesiology and much more. Most specialties will require you to obtain a bachelor’s degree, an additional four-year degree from a medical school, and then completion of three to seven years in internships and residency programs. The median annual salary for physicians and surgeons is greater than or equal to $208,000 per yearExternal link:open_in_new, and doctors working in certain specializations can earn more than that. Job growth is expected to remain around the average of 3% through 2030.
If you want to have a direct impact on people’s health and quality of life but don’t like the idea of spending well over a decade in training, then becoming a nurse practitioner (NP) may be the answer. A career as an NP may have you diagnosing illnesses and prescribing medications in a family health setting. Or, you could perform examinations and order testing at a women’s health office. Another common avenue for NPs is to pursue a career in mental health care. Your specialization options as a nurse practitioner are numerous, including but not limited to:
Today, online nursing programs have removed many barriers to entry for aspiring NPs. There are online programs in a number of NP specialties including family nurse practitioner programs and women’s health nurse practitioner programs. Whatever specialty you pursue, clinical hours, certification and state licensure are required before you can start your career as a nurse practitioner.
If you have a particular interest in food and its impact on the human body, consider pursuing a career as a nutritionist. Nutritionists often work directly with patients to assess their nutritional needs and create custom meal plans. Nutritionists may advise people trying to lose weight or help elite athletes fine-tune their diet to better support their training regimen. Other nutritionists work in public health and educate various populations about the importance of good nutrition. Whatever path suits you, consider a convenient online nutritionist course to set you on your way to a career as a nutritionist.
Nursing assistants are a critical part of the patient care team in hospitals. Nursing assistants help patients with routine tasks such as bathing, dressing and eating. They may also monitor the patient’s vital signs and facilitate communication between the patient and the rest of the patient care team. For many aspiring nurses, becoming a certified nursing assistant (CNA) is the first step on that path. Working as a CNA could help you decide whether healthcare is the right field for you and give you valuable work experience to prepare you for a future as a nurse, physical therapist, doctor or other healthcare professional.
A certified nurse midwife (CNM) is an advanced practice nurse. This specialty area focuses on woman and infant health during and after pregnancy. As the name implies, nurse midwives assist women through pregnancy and birth and administer care to the mother and baby after birth. But nurse midwives may also help women protect their gynecologic health, from adolescence and beyond, via regular exams and screening. Numerous high-quality online nurse midwifery programs put this career path within reach for those considering pursuing an advanced degree and a challenging career in a nursing field.
An occupational therapist works with patients to help them recover from disability, illness or injury to acquire or regain physical functions. From helping a stroke victim relearn how to get dressed to advising an employer about how to best accommodate the patient’s physical workplace needs, an occupational therapist may have a profound impact on each patient’s quality of life. According to the BLS, demand for occupational therapists is expected to grow 17%External link:open_in_new through 2030, and the median annual salary for occupational therapistsExternal link:open_in_new is $86,280 per year.
Pharmacy technicians work closely with pharmacists to manage the day-to-day processes that happen at a pharmacy. A pharmacy tech may perform the following duties:
- Provide medicines to patients
- Manage the pharmacy’s stock of medications
- Assemble medicine for filling prescriptions
- Manage other staff members
- Produce medicines at a pharmacy or a pharmaceuticals manufacturer
Depending on the program selected, pharmacy technician training can be completed in less than a year. Community colleges, vocational schools and some hospitals may offer pharmacy tech training programs that can help prepare you for your first career in pharmacology.
Physician assistants (PAs) may work directly with patients and under physician supervision to diagnose illnesses, prescribe medications and develop care plans to improve patient outcomes. Some PAs can perform specific medical procedures or assist during surgeries. PAs must have at least a master’s degree, which is typically earned through a three-year program, plus thousands of hours of patient care experience.
Physical therapists (PTs) help patients improve their mobility, manage pain and boost quality of life. They may review the patient’s medical history, observe their movements and develop a treatment plan that may leverage equipment, stretches and exercises. PTs may work with patients who are recovering from surgeries or injuries, or living with conditions such as arthritis or the aftereffects of a stroke. PTs must obtain a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) degree,External link:open_in_new which is typically a three-year program, according to the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA). They must also obtain professional certification and state licensure.
Registered nurses (RNs) perform a wide variety of duties in many different healthcare settings. RNs may work directly with patients to monitor their vital signs, dispense medications prescribed by a doctor and educate the patient and their family members about upcoming procedures or home care tasks.
Becoming an RN may require a two-year degree, certification and state licensure. Be sure to check with your state’s requirements for licensure. Obtaining more advanced degrees or completing specialized training may open the door to additional career opportunities. Nursing is another area of healthcare training that has seen growth in online RN programs, making it easier to enter this challenging and rewarding career.
Speech pathologists work with patients dealing with communication disorders or difficulty with swallowing. A speech pathologist may begin their engagement with a new patient by observing and analyzing their speech or swallowing challenges. Once the cause of the issue is identified, the speech pathologist may create and execute a treatment plan designed to improve the patient’s speech or swallowing. Speech pathologists may routinely work with patients who are facing challenges caused by a developmental delay, cleft palate, autism or a past stroke.
Should I Pursue a Career in Healthcare?
Strong demand for healthcare professionalsExternal link:open_in_new, job security, a reliable salary and benefits package may be some common reasons why people enter the healthcare field. But there are lots of other benefits too:
- The satisfaction of helping people all day, every day, and making a real difference in their lives.
- No two days are alike, and each day at work will present new opportunities to learn and grow as a professional.
- Demand is strong for so many healthcare professions across the country (and often, worldwide) that you may be able to pursue your chosen healthcare career wherever you want.
- Whether you are willing to invest a year or a decade in your training and certification process, there is likely a career in healthcare waiting for you.
Here are a few more things to consider as you ponder a potential future career in the healthcare field:
The educational requirements for a healthcare career vary widely by occupation and specialization. For example, some pharmacy technician programs can be completed within a year. On the other end of the spectrum, highly specialized surgeons may spend four years obtaining a bachelor’s degree, another four years in medical school and then another three to seven years in internships and residencies, according to the American Board of Surgery training requirements.External link:open_in_new Most healthcare professionals may fall somewhere in between these two extremes.
Many healthcare careers require various training and education and offer different levels of authority. For example, did you know that you can become a registered nurse with a two-year associate degree? You could spend your whole career having a positive impact on people and their health. Or, you can keep leveling up to a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN), a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN), and even a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP). Each time you acquire another degree, you may take on new career paths with increasing levels of autonomy and authority. Additionally, opportunities to lead other healthcare professionals may become available as you increase your level of education and experience.
Obtaining additional certifications beyond what’s required may help illustrate to employers that you are highly qualified and driven to keep learning new skills. Diverse certification courses are available for a wide range of healthcare occupations. For example, here are a few certifications available for registered nurses:
- Certified addictions registered nurse (CARN)
- Cardiac medicine certification (CMC)
- Nationally certified school nurse (NCSN)
- Certified gastroenterology registered nurse (CGRN)
Career Outlooks & Salary
According to the BLS, demand for healthcare professionalsExternal link:open_in_new as a whole is expected to grow by 16% through 2030, which far outpaces average demand for all occupations. Demand varies by occupation. For example, demand for pharmacy technicians is expected to stay around 4%,External link:open_in_new while expected demand for new physical therapists is 21%External link:open_in_new.
The median annual wage for healthcare practitioners and technical occupationsExternal link:open_in_new was $69,870 in May 2020, which is around 50% greater than the average annual salary for all occupations. Again, many factors can affect salary, including occupation, specialization, experience, additional training, location and the type of facility you work in. For example, in May 2020, the median average annual salary for registered nursesExternal link:open_in_new was $75,300. Nurse anesthetists, nurse practitioners and nurse midwives have obtained higher degrees. These advanced practice registered nurses earned a median annual salaryExternal link:open_in_new of $117,670 per year, as of May 2020.
Licensure & Credentials
One thing many healthcare careers have in common is that they require some kind of professional certification and state licensure before you can begin working in that field. For example, in order to work as a registered nurse, candidates must pass the National Council Licensure Examination for registered nurses (NCLEX-RN). These certifications and licenses, however, may need to be renewed regularly, and they may require completion of continuing education courses, a certain number of hours on the job or volunteering in the field or sometimes another examination is required. Requirements will vary by occupation, specialization and location.
Is healthcare a good career?
Healthcare is a great career for the right person. If you are passionate about helping people be healthy, recover from injuries or illnesses, or find ways to live a more fulfilling life, then a healthcare career may be a good choice for you.
What are the advantages of working in healthcare?
Some healthcare occupations may deliver a good salary and benefits package. And if you like challenges, there may be many opportunities for professional growth and advancement in the healthcare field, especially if you are willing to invest in more education.
How do I become a healthcare professional?
The path to a healthcare career varies by occupation, but most healthcare jobs require a certain amount of training and a specific credential to validate your professional skills.
Healthcare provider vs. medical professional: What’s the difference?
A medical professional is a person who performs medical diagnostics and procedures for a patient, such as physical exams, bloodwork and surgeries. Doctors, nurse practitioners and dentists are a few examples of medical professionals.
A healthcare provider is anyone who is authorized to provide healthcare services, including all the services listed above plus mental health counseling, patient education, nutrition planning and more. This field includes but is not limited to doctors, nurse practitioners, clinical social workers, pharmacists and nutritionists.
Last updated October 2021.