The healthcare industry can be a rewarding career path for anyone looking to make a difference in people's lives. As the population continues to grow, medical technology and wellness become increasingly important — meaning healthcare professionals are more in demand than ever.
Whether you want to work in a healthcare facility or as a home health aide, there are plenty of options to pursue in this field. Let's examine some of the advantages of a healthcare career, including advancement opportunities, salaries, and job security.
What is the healthcare industry like?
Career options in the healthcare industry encompass a wide range of organizations, professionals, and services dedicated to promoting, maintaining, and restoring health for individuals and communities. In addition to providing medical care and conducting medical research, healthcare workers include those who promote health and wellness and ensure accessible healthcare for their communities.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the medical field has been experiencing steady job growth for several years. It is projected to continue expanding in the coming decade. Factors like an aging population, increased prevalence of chronic diseases, technological advancements, and healthcare policy changes contribute to this growth, which is expected to result in approximately 2 million new healthcare jobs between 2021 and 2031.
Pros and cons of a healthcare career
Understanding both the positive aspects and potential challenges of a healthcare career and your career options will help ensure you’re ready for this path. Here are some of the pros and cons:
A healthcare career offers many benefits, making it a compelling choice for many. Here are just a few:
- Making a difference: Healthcare professionals have the opportunity to positively impact the lives of individuals and communities. They are critical in improving patient health outcomes, providing care and support during challenging times, and contributing to society’s overall well-being.
- Job stability and security: The healthcare industry offers a high level of job stability due to the constant demand for healthcare services. With an aging population and advancements in medical technology, the need for healthcare professionals remains consistently high, providing a secure career path.
- Competitive salaries: Many healthcare professions offer competitive salaries and benefits. While this can vary depending on the specific role, level of education, and experience, healthcare careers often provide financial stability and the potential for growth.
Career options in the healthcare industry can often lead to unique challenges. Here are some detailed examples of potential difficulties and obstacles healthcare professionals may face:
- Intense work environment: Healthcare careers can be physically and emotionally demanding. Dealing with high-stress environments can lead to burnout and emotional exhaustion if proper self-care and work-life balance are not in place.
- Educational requirements: Most healthcare careers require extensive education and training.
- Emotional challenges: Healthcare professionals often witness pain, suffering, and loss on a daily basis, which can take an emotional toll. Practicing self-care is crucial.
Who should pursue a career in healthcare?
A healthcare career is a significant decision that requires thoughtful consideration. Healthcare professionals provide medical care, promote wellness, and improve the quality of life for individuals and communities. Understanding these factors is essential to ensure a successful journey in this demanding career path. Here are some factors to consider when deciding if healthcare is the right career path for you:
It is important to research the specific educational requirements. Below are some academic pathways that can help you enter and succeed in the healthcare field. These degree titles may vary by institution, so these are just a starting point.
- Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN): This is essential for someone aspiring to become a registered nurse (RN). It provides comprehensive training in nursing theory, handling medical records, and patient care.
- Bachelor of Science in Health Sciences: This degree offers a broad foundation in various health-related disciplines, including public health and healthcare management
- Master of Science in Nursing (MSN): This advanced degree allows registered nurses to specialize in advanced practice areas, such as nurse practitioner, nurse anesthetist, nurse midwife, or clinical nurse specialist.
- Master of Health Administration (MHA): This focuses on healthcare leadership, management, public health, and administration, preparing individuals for managerial positions in healthcare organizations.
Other medical degrees
- Doctor of Medicine (MD): This degree is necessary for someone aspiring to become a physician. It includes rigorous training and hands-on patient care.
- Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO): Like an MD, a DO degree emphasizes a holistic approach to patient care. However, the main difference is that DOs may use manual medicine — including hands-on work like massage — as part of treatment.
- Basic Life Support (BLS) and Advanced Cardiac Life Support (ACLS): These certifications provide training in life-saving techniques and are required for healthcare professionals in certain fields.
- Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) or Patient Care Technician (PCT): These certifications provide essential skills and knowledge in nursing and patient care. Certain roles might require them, depending on your location and organization.
Students and job seekers should develop a combination of technical, practical, and soft skills to succeed in healthcare careers. Here are some important skills that can enhance your prospects:
- Medical knowledge: A solid understanding of medical terminology, anatomy, physiology, and pharmacology is crucial for healthcare professionals to provide accurate diagnoses, treatments, and patient care.
- Proficiency in medical procedures: Acquiring technical skills in various medical procedures, such as administering injections, conducting physical exams, or performing basic surgical techniques, are examples of some necessary skills in certain healthcare jobs.
- Use of medical equipment and technology: Physician’s assistants, lab techs, and doctors alike all make use of tech like diagnostic tools and electronic medical records for treatment and documentation.
- Patient care: Compassionate and competent patient care is fundamental. Practical skills, including administering medications, wound care, and assisting with activities of daily living, are essential for medical assistants and other direct patient care providers.
- Infection control and safety measures: Understanding and implementing proper safety measures ensure the well-being of both patients and healthcare professionals. For example, proper sanitation is critical for everyone’s safety and to prevent medical malpractice (both a safety issue and a financial risk).
- Working with health insurance: No matter which type of care you offer, you may run into issues with health insurance companies. With time, you’ll likely become more familiar with their policies so you can explain coverage to your patients.
- Communication and interpersonal skills: Effective communication is essential for healthcare professionals to build rapport with patients, collaborate with colleagues, and convey complex medical information.
- Critical thinking and problem-solving: Healthcare professionals must use strong critical thinking skills for effective problem-solving, clinical reasoning, and decision-making in various healthcare settings.
- Attention to detail: Precision and attention to detail are vital in healthcare to ensure accurate medical documentation and patient monitoring.
- Clinical rotations and internships: Gaining practical experience through supervised clinical rotations or internships allows students and job seekers to apply theoretical knowledge, develop hands-on skills, and understand the realities of healthcare practice.
- Volunteering/Shadowing: Volunteering or shadowing healthcare professionals provides exposure to the healthcare environment, offers insights into different roles, and demonstrates a commitment to the field.
While there is no one-size-fits-all personality type when it comes to healthcare roles, certain traits and interests can contribute to success in this field. Here are some attributes that might make you a good candidate for a healthcare career:
- Resilience and adaptability: The healthcare field can be demanding and unpredictable. Healthcare professionals must be resilient in the face of stress, long hours, and emotionally challenging situations. The ability to adapt quickly to changing circumstances and remain composed under pressure is essential.
- Ethics and professionalism: Healthcare professionals handle sensitive and confidential information, making ethical decision-making crucial. Upholding professional standards, maintaining patient privacy, and demonstrating integrity are essential attributes for healthcare providers.
- Interest in lifelong learning: A commitment to continuous learning involves staying updated with the latest developments and seeking opportunities for professional growth. This allows healthcare professionals to provide the best possible care to patients.
Top 10 healthcare jobs
The healthcare industry offers a wide range of career opportunities. This section highlights the top 10 healthcare jobs that are in high demand. These career paths encompass various specialties and levels of education, catering to individuals with diverse interests and skill sets. Whether you are passionate about direct patient care, medical research, or healthcare administration, this list provides an overview of the top healthcare careers shaping the industry and making a significant impact on people's lives.
1. Speech-language pathologist
Also known as speech therapists, these healthcare workers play a critical role in diagnosing and treating communication and swallowing disorders. Their primary responsibility is to assess and provide therapy for individuals with speech, language, fluency, voice, and swallowing difficulties.
A master's degree in speech-language pathology is typically required to become a speech-language pathologist. They earn an average salary of $89,776.
Sonographers, also known as ultrasound technicians, are healthcare professionals who use specialized imaging equipment to create images of the body's internal structures. Sonographers are skilled in operating ultrasound machines, positioning patients, capturing images, analyzing results, and communicating findings to the healthcare team.
To become a sonographer, you’ll typically need an associate degree or bachelor's degree in diagnostic medical sonography or a related field. Professional certification is also available and may be required by some employers. On average, this role brings in $59,320 per year.
3. Physical therapist
Are you passionate about helping others regain their physical independence and live their best lives? As a physical therapist, you’ll help patients improve mobility, manage pain, and regain functional abilities.
A doctoral degree in physical therapy is typically required, which involves completing a program accredited by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE). Graduates must also pass a state licensing examination to practice as a physical therapist. Physical therapists earn an average annual salary of $97,201.
You can also learn the ropes while still in school by becoming a physical therapist assistant.
You can become a real-life hero on the frontlines of emergency care as a paramedic. Your day-to-day will involve answering urgent calls, rushing to the scene, and providing critical medical care to those in need. From administering medications to performing advanced procedures and stabilizing patients for transport, you'll be the calm element amidst the chaos.
A career as a paramedic requires specialized education and training, and you’ll need certain certification or licensure that can vary depending on where you live. It can be a good starting point if you only have a high school diploma. But that also means a slightly lower salary than other careers on this list: Paramedics earn an average of $47,684 per year.
5. Occupational therapist
As an occupational therapist, you’ll help individuals of all ages develop, regain, or maintain the skills necessary for daily living. These professionals evaluate people’s physical abilities and limitations, customize treatment plans, and introduce therapeutic activities to improve their independence and quality of life.
Typically, you’ll need a master's degree in occupational therapy and must be licensed to practice in your state. But the role comes with a healthy average annual salary of $96,072. However, you could also become an occupational therapy assistant, which requires less training and is a good starting point.
6. Massage therapist
Are you kneading a career that lets you work with your hands to help people heal? Consider becoming a massage therapist, where you'll use manual techniques to manipulate muscles and tissues, promote wellness, and relieve tension. They typically work in spas, wellness centers, and chiropractic offices, or may even be self-employed.
Becoming a massage therapist usually requires a program in massage therapy, which typically includes both classroom instruction and hands-on practice. Most states also require licensure or certification, and you’ll likely earn an average yearly salary of around $56,000.
Ready to dig into a career that's all about food and nutrition? As a dietitian, you'll be the go-to expert in helping people make healthy dietary choices. You'll whip up personalized meal plans, provide nutritional counseling, and dish out advice on everything from weight management to specialized diets. With a strong foundation in science and a passion for promoting wellness, you'll be the avocado to their toast, the kale to their smoothie!
Not to be confused with the similar title of “nutritionist,” dietitians require certain licensure (nutritionists are typically unregulated).
It's not among the highest-paying healthcare jobs — with an average annual salary of $40,553 — but a dietitian brings plenty of fulfillment and opportunities to spread the joy of good health and nutrition. It also requires only a bachelor’s degree in most cases.
8. Health services manager
This role oversees the operations and strategic direction of healthcare organizations. From hospitals to clinics, you'll coordinate and manage various departments to ensure efficient delivery of care and maintain high-quality standards. With a knack for problem-solving and strong leadership skills, you'll tackle budgeting, staffing, and regulatory compliance like a pro.
While it comes with its fair share of responsibilities, being a health services manager offers great opportunities for career advancement and growth. And the cherry on top? It pays well — an average annual salary of $67,784.
9. Respiratory therapist
As a respiratory therapist, you'll provide care and treatment to patients with breathing difficulties. From diagnosing respiratory disorders to administering therapies and assisting with life-saving interventions, you'll be the hero of the healthcare field.
While respiratory therapy offers a fulfilling and vital role, it's important to note that it may not be among the highest-paying healthcare professions. But with an average annual salary of $75,219, it’s certainly not the lowest.
As a pharmacist, you'll be the medication expert ensuring the right prescriptions find their way into patients’ hands. From dispensing medications and providing valuable advice on drug interactions to counseling patients on proper usage, you'll be the guardian of pharmaceutical knowledge.
This is considered one of the best-paying jobs in healthcare: The average salary for pharmacists is $147,893.
Choosing the right healthcare career
The healthcare industry offers a vast array of rewarding career opportunities. From providing direct patient care to supporting healthcare operations, there's a role for everyone interested in making a difference in people's lives. This field offers job security and competitive salaries and provides an opportunity to positively impact individuals and communities.
So, if you're ready to embark on a fulfilling career, the healthcare field awaits you. Join Handshake to start your job search today and become part of a dynamic industry that promotes health and well-being.
- World Health Organization (WHO) - www.who.int
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) - www.cdc.gov
- American Medical Association (AMA) - www.ama-assn.org
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) - www.hhs.gov
- Health Affairs - www.healthaffairs.org
- Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) -www.himss.org
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) - www.bls.gov
- Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) - www.hrsa.gov
- Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) - www.aamc.org
- American Nurses Association (ANA) -www.nursingworld.org
- American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA): https://www.asha.org/
- National Student Speech Language Hearing Association (NSSLHA): https://www.nsslha.org/
- American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography (ARDMS): https://www.ardms.org/
- Society of Diagnostic Medical Sonography (SDMS): https://www.sdms.org/
- American Physical Therapy Association (APTA): https://www.apta.org/
- Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE): https://www.capteonline.org/home.aspx
- National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians (NREMT): https://www.nremt.org/
- National Association of Emergency Medical Technicians (NAEMT): https://www.naemt.org/
- American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA): https://www.aota.org/
- National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT): https://www.nbcot.org/
- American College of Healthcare Executives (ACHE): https://www.ache.org/
- Healthcare Financial Management Association (HFMA): https://www.hfma.org/
- American Association for Respiratory Care (AARC): https://www.aarc.org/
- National Board for Respiratory Care (NBRC): https://www.nbrc.org/
- American Pharmacists Association (APhA): https://www.pharmacist.com/
- Pharmacy Times: https://www.pharmacytimes.com/