Working within healthcare appeals to our society in a way virtually no other professional sector does. The mystique of making medical diagnoses, the desire to help those in need, the adrenalin surge that comes with working at a fast pace and in stressful situations, and the allure of earning a handsome salary. If you need further proof that we like the idea of healthcare jobs, just think about how many movies and televisions shows (reality, dramas, and comedies) take place or have taken place inside hospitals.
Our attraction to this industry will probably always be well-matched with the necessity to educate and employ more qualified healthcare professionals--especially right now, as a substantial portion of our population is aging and requiring more medical care. In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that there will be more employment growth within the healthcare and social assistance sector than in any others this decade.
Here's a snapshot of the 24 healthcare professions that we at U.S. News have labelled the best to break into, either this year or in the years to come.
The Doctors Are In
What's a list of healthcare jobs without doctors? For 2013, we highlight a handful of professions that utilize this title, although the long road to earning the honor is different for each job. Whether you choose to be a Medical Doctor (M.D.), a Doctor of Dental Medicine (D.M.D.), a Doctor of Pharmacy (PharmD), or even a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (D.V.M.), you can expect to spend at least two years following undergrad completing a professional degree and residency program. Some medical specialties require up to eight years working as a resident.
The initials behind your name are only part of the payoff for all those years of training: Doctors are imperative to providing quality healthcare, as they're the ones who make the medical diagnoses and final decisions on how to treat patients. The four categories of doctors we highlight this year could together see nearly 300,000 new hires between 2010 and 2020.
Expected Openings: 27,600
Expected Openings: 69,700
Expected Openings: 168,300
Expected Openings: 22,000
Some of the most significant work in a healthcare facility is performed by medical secretaries, technologists, and technicians. And like the doctors, therapists, and nurses who they support, these workers undergo specialized training to become qualified to properly operate complex medical equipment, decipher prescription orders, prepare patients for procedures, keep detailed medical records, and possibly even perform initial analyses and medical examinations.
However, you won't find yourself in a four-years-or-more learning purgatory (er, training period) to enter one of these six positions from our Best Jobs list. And job prospects are excellent, as healthcare facilities strive to meet the demand to treat more patients by hiring these types of workers to provide general care and free up registered nurses, therapists, and doctors. Keep in mind that technologists are senior to technicians, typically earn higher salaries, and often need a bachelor's degree and credentials.
Clinical Laboratory Technician
Expected Openings: 23,800
Diagnostic Medical Sonographer
Expected Openings: 23,400
Expected Openings: 210,200
Expected Openings: 108,300
Expected Openings: 61,000
Veterinary Technologist & Technician
Expected Openings: 41,700
[See: The 100 Best Jobs.]
In the Trenches
If doctors are the industry's healers, then the professionals who fill these seven gigs are the industry's heroes. They're intrinsic to patient, pain, and symptom management; they examine patients, draw blood, provide emergency/first-response care, perform tests, assist in surgeries, monitor healing, change dressings, and more. They might also educate: For instance, a dental hygienist doesn't just clean a patient's teeth; he or she might also instruct the patient on proper oral care. A respiratory therapist might teach a parent how to administer a breathing treatment to their child, or a smoker on ways to kick their habit.
These workers also represent a sect of healthcare that will see some of the most substantial growth by 2020, due to the large and aging baby-boomer population but also thanks to our society's growing interest in preventative medicine. Some pockets within these fields will experience tremendous hiring opportunity. For example, the BLS reports that advanced practice registered nurses (nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives, nurse practitioners, and clinical nurse specialists) should especially see a hiring boom, as should nurses willing to work in residential care facilities.
Expected Openings: 91,600
Expected Openings: 68,500
Expected Openings: 162,900
Expected Openings: 302,000
Expected Openings: 75,400
Expected Openings: 711,900
Expected Openings: 31,200
Health & Wellness
It's no longer sufficient to treat medical problems when they happen. We now want to ward them off before they can occur. And as "preventative care" becomes more buzzy, it also becomes more available and affordable. Five positions that facilitate this branch of healthcare made our list of Best Jobs for 2013.
As with other healthcare professions, growth in the fields of physical therapy, occupational therapy, massage therapy, and epidemiology can also be traced back to baby boomers: This generation is aging but active, and boomers desire and require more rehabilitative and/or preventative care than previous generations.
Expected Openings: 77,400
Physical Therapist Assistant
Expected Openings: 30,800
Expected Openings: 36,400
The Comforts of Home
One of the fastest-growing industries within healthcare won't employ professionals in a hospital or clinic, but in private residences. The expense and discomfort of being supplanted to an assisted living or nursing home during convalescence, in elderly years, or for end-of-life care is driving many to employ healthcare workers to provide assistance in the home. Home health aides and personal care aides usually aren't qualified to perform advanced medical procedures, but they are assets for patients who need help moving around, bathing, and performing light household tasks.
These two professions made our list because job opportunities are excellent for both. On the other hand, job security isn't as great. Turnover can be high since many aides work with terminal patients, are paid low salaries, and experience little job advancement, according to the BLS. Those thinking of becoming either a personal care aide or home health aide might want to use the job as an entree into registered nursing or occupational therapy.
Home Health Aide
Expected Openings: 706,300
Personal Care Aide
Expected Openings: 607,000
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