If you're looking for a career in demand, the health care industry has typically been a safe bet in recent years. Due to our aging population and the many vocational positions available in the health care field, most people can get started in a decent paying career with a two-year degree or less.
And those degrees can pay off won't just provide temporary employment; many health care careers have clear paths of hierarchy to move up as you become more experienced, and in some cases return to school to earn higher degrees. Demand is typically high for health care workers, but may be even steeper for those working within certain specialties. Programs for these specialties vary tremendously, but they all serve as valuable stepping stones to a wealth of careers in areas like licensed practical nursing, dental assisting, physical therapy assisting, and more. The following guide provides insight into just some of these careers and the occupational trends driving them.
Health Care Specializations
Not only can many health care professionals choose to work with a particular type of patient -- like pediatric or geriatric patients -- but they may also choose to specialize in a particular area of health care (think oncology, cardiology or obstetrics). Specific duties are generally determined by job title. The following represent some of the niches health care careers are found in:
While you can always become a dentist, certain careers within dentistry require less time in school. Dental hygienists, for example, can get started with just two years of full-time study and an associate degree, yet they earn high pay from the start. Dental assistants generally need on-the-job training to get started, although one-year dental assistant programs are also common.
Licensed vocational and licensed practical nurses, also called LVNs or LPNs, provide basic patient care under the direction of a registered nurse, or RN. They usually earn a postsecondary certificate or two-year degree to practice. If you want to stay in school longer, on the other hand, you can become a registered nurse (RN) instead. These professionals typically study for four years and earn a bachelor's degree, although you can become an RN in certain states with appropriate licensure and an associate degree.
Medical technicians come in several different forms depending on their duties and where they work. Radiology technicians, for example, help professionals administer radiation therapy. Diagnostic medical sonographers, on the other hand, use ultrasound technology to help practitioners diagnose conditions.
If you want to get started in physical therapy quickly, it makes sense to pursue education as a physical therapy assistant or aide. To become a physical therapy assistant, you usually need to complete a two-year, associate degree. To work as a physical therapy aide, you can usually participate in a one-year program and/or complete on-the-job training.
EMT and Paramedics
EMTs and Paramedics provide temporary emergency care in the event of an accident. Typically speaking, these professionals are trained to arrive on the scene and stabilize a patient while they head to a hospital or clinic. You can usually enter this profession with some postsecondary education and official licensure.
Health Care Certification and Degrees
Though programs can vary tremendously from one school or specialty to the next, there are a few degree programs that stand out from the pack. Here are a few of the most popular vocational degrees within the field of health care:
- Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) - An associate degree in nursing can be completed in two years of full-time study and can lead to work as an RN or LPN depending on educational requirements in the state.
- Associate Degree in Diagnostic Medical Sonography - This two-year degree helps future ultrasound technicians learn the skills required to become a diagnostic medical sonographer.
- Associate Degree in Physical Therapy Assisting - This two-year degree helps people gain the educational requirements needed to become licensed as a physical therapy assistant.
- Diploma in Nursing - Generally speaking, a diploma in nursing can help you get started as a nursing assistant. These programs usually take 1-2 years to complete.
- Diploma for Paramedics and EMTs - Paramedics and EMTs generally need a non-degree award before they can become licensed to work in this field. These programs usually take 1-2 years to complete.
Expert Advice on Vocational Health Care Programs
To get more information for students considering health care education, we spoke with Melissa Knybel, vice president of Clinical Services of Randstad Healthcare. She has worked in the medical staffing industry for more than 15 years and worked previously as a registered nurse in a variety of settings, including in a level one trauma center and a community hospital. Here, she answers some questions about vocational opportunities in the allied health care field.
Melissa Knybel is the vice president of Clinical Services of Randstad Healthcare.
RWM: What is the ideal educational path to enter the health care field at entry level?
Knybel: When I decided to go into nursing, I chose to become a CNA (certified nursing assistant), so I could get exposure to the health care environment and start learning about patient care. I think that experience provided me with an advantage when I applied to nursing school - not only had I completed all my prerequisites for the nursing program, but I also had experience in the health care environment. Entering the field as a medical assistant, EMT or CNA is a great way to get exposure to health care, find out if this is in fact what you really want to do and provide you with an advantage when seeking further education.
RWM: What are the most popular health care jobs/specializations right now?
Knybel: The opportunities in health care are incredibly diverse. Due to the changes that have occurred in the health care industry, more Americans have access to health care services than ever before, resulting in an increased demand for qualified talent. The areas of greatest need in health care are nurses, primary care physicians, nurse practitioners and physician assistants. However, there is demand for just about every area of specialty practice (radiology, laboratory, respiratory therapy, physical and occupational therapy, etc.). Not only are clinicians in demand, but operations, IT and administrative staff within the health care industry are also needed. This includes medical coders, IT professionals specializing in electronic medical records, data management and security, case managers and utilization review specialists. Many of these needs come from the advancements in technology that provide the ability for patients to access health care services remotely via tele-medicine.
RWM: Which health care jobs are most in-demand?
Knybel: Nurses are in greatest demand in all specialty areas, including acute care hospitals, rehabilitation hospitals and outpatient clinics. Some of the most highly sought after professionals today include obstetrics (nurses, midwives and physicians), interventional radiology and cardiac catheterization lab professionals (nurses and technologists). In addition, medical coders are in very high demand on the non-clinical side of health care.
RWM: Why would you encourage someone to pursue a career in health care?
Knybel: The opportunities are endless in health care. There are many ways in which someone can grow their career. For clinicians, especially, the level of expertise that is developed in the patient care environment can be translated into many different types of work environments and businesses.
RWM: Do you have any advice for young people who are just starting out in this industry?
Knybel: Take the time to really learn your practice and become an expert in what it is that you do, and then grow from there. At all times remember that whatever it is that you do in a clinical or non-clinical role, you will impact the care that a patient receives (or does not receive). Health care is not an industry where we make widgets; with our actions, our behaviors and our decisions, we impact patient's lives.
Health Care Industry Salary and Job Data
While salaries and career potential vary all over the country, health care careers are known for their ongoing growth and above average pay. The chart below highlights some of the details of health care careers with recent nationwide data on wages, potential growth, and more:
|Career||Annual Mean Wage||Projected Employment Change||Projected 2012-2022 Growth|
|Cardiovascular Technologists and Technicians||56100||11500||22.2|
|Diagnostic Medical Sonographers||70880||16000||26.4|
|Emergency Medical Technicians and Paramedics||35430||58500||24.2|
|Licensed Practical and Licensed Vocational Nurses||44030||117300||16.3|
|Medical and Clinical Laboratory Technicians||41420||29000||17.8|
|Nuclear Medicine Technologists||74990||300||1.5|
|Physical Therapist Assistants||55250||31900||40.6|
The BLS typically suggests that with any one of these vocational degree programs, you could be on your way to a job in health care. Be sure to do research on your school to see if it's been properly accredited and has a good program for job placement after graduation.
- Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment Statistics, Occupational Employment and Wages, http://www.bls.gov/oes/
- Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/
- Projections Central, State Occupational Projections, Long Term Occupational Projections, http://www.projectionscentral.com/Projections/LongTerm
- Interview with