Advances in medical care and technology spell good news for anyone whose life is extended by them, but also for those working in the health care industry. Thanks to these shifts (and a sizable aging population), health care is not just one of the largest industries in the nation, but also one of the fastest growing. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (bls.gov) projects that demand for health care professionals will grow by nearly 27 percent nationwide between 2012 and 2022 -- faster than the national average for all occupations.
Demand is even steeper for those working within certain specialties. Programs for these specialties vary tremendously, but 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.
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 just a handful of the careers for which those attending medical vocational schools can prepare.
- Dental hygienists. Dental hygienists clean teeth and examine patients for signs of oral disease. They also provide other preventive dental care, and may instruct patients in proper oral hygiene. Most hygienists need at least an associate degree to practice, and according to the BLS, all states require licensure.
- Licensed vocational and licensed practical nurses. Licensed vocational and licensed practical nurses, also called LVNs or LPNs, depending on the state, provide basic patient care under the direction of a registered nurse, or RN. They must typically earn at least a postsecondary certificate to practice.
- Physical therapy assistants. Physical therapy assistants help patients develop or recover physical ability and specialize in working with those recovering from injury or illness. They can only work under the direct supervision of a licensed physical therapist, and most states require they earn at least associate degrees from accredited medical vocational schools.
- Ultrasound technicians. Ultrasound technicians, or diagnostic medical sonographers, use ultrasonic imaging technology to create the images physicians and surgeons need to diagnose and treat certain medical conditions. Though obstetric ultrasound technicians are perhaps among the best known sonographers, these professionals can image virtually any major body system and may even become certified in a particular specialty like neuroscience, cardiology or mammography. The BLS reports these professionals typically need at least an associate degree to practice.
Certifications and degrees
Medical vocational schools offer a diversity of credentials, though unlike the medical schools that train physicians and surgeons, they tend to focus on those at or below the baccalaureate level. Some graduates go on to seek professional certifications as well. These certifications are often earned through professional organizations and certify that candidates have specialized training in a particular procedure, technology or health care field. An ultrasound technician might go on to become certified in musculoskeletal sonography, for instance.
Though programs can vary tremendously from one school or specialty to the next, there are a few courses that seem virtually universal for health majors. The following are just a few of these courses.
- Medical ethics
- Medical records keeping
- Clinical practicum
Remember that programs vary. We recommend requesting more information from specific programs of interest to learn more about the types of courses required, and any prerequisites required for admission.
Salary and career outlook
It can be difficult to predict how much health care professionals will earn once in the field since earnings are subject to a variety of factors, like training, experience and location. The same is true of career outlook. Here is a breakdown of salary and career data for the careers listed above, as reported by the BLS (bls.gov, 2013-2014):
Dental hygienists. According to the BLS, dental hygienists earned a median annual salary of $71,110 nationally in 2013, though annual mean earnings tended to be highest in the following states:
- California, $93,920
- Texas, $71,010
- Florida, $61,110
The BLS projects that demand for dental hygienists will grow by 33 percent between 2012 and 2022 -- much faster than the national average for all occupations. Projections Central projects that demand will grow the fastest in the following states between 2010 and 2022:
- Georgia, 48.3 percent
- Virginia, 48 percent
- Utah, 40.9 percent
Licensed practical and licensed vocational nurses. According to the BLS, LPNs and LVNs earned a national median wage of $41,920 in 2013, with the following states reporting the highest annual mean earnings:
- Connecticut, $54,690
- Alaska, $54,010
- Nevada, $53,490
The BLS projects that demand for these professionals will grow by about 25 percent nationally between 2012 and 2022. The states with the fastest occupational growth between 2010 and 2020, as reported by Projections Central, are:
- Utah, 34.5 percent
- Virginia, 26.7 percent
- California, 25.7 percent
Physical therapy assistant. The BLS reports that PT assistants earned a national median wage of $53,360 in 2013. The states with the highest reported mean earnings that same year:
- Texas, $68,730
- Alaska, $63,760
- New Jersey, $61,690
The BLS projects that demand for these professionals will grow by 41 percent between 2012 and 2022, or much faster than the national average for all occupations. Projections Central predicts that demand will be strongest for physical therapy assistants in the following states between 2010 and 2020:
- Virginia, 54.9 percent
- Alabama, 43.4 percent
- Utah, 42.3 percent
Ultrasound technician. The BLS reports that diagnostic medical sonographers earned a national median salary of $66,410 in 2013, with mean annual earnings highest in the following states:
- California, $86,550
- Oregon, $83,830
- Washington, $80,820
The BLS projects that employment of ultrasound technicians will grow by 39 percent nationally between 2012 and 2022, much faster than the national average. Prospects should be best for certified techs, and, according to Projections Central, should be strongest for those working in the following areas between 2010 and 2020:
- Puerto Rico, 58.7 percent
- Utah, 54.1 percent
- Colorado, 51.3 percent
Finding the right health career fit
Keep in mind the the careers featured above represent a tiny sliver of those available within the health care field. You can learn more about any of them -- or others -- by visiting the BLS online, contacting medical vocational schools directly, or checking out our Top Jobs section.
Dental Hygienists, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, January 8, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/dental-hygienists.htm
Dental Hygienists, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment Statistics, Occupational Employment and Wages, May, 2013, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes292021.htm
Diagnostic Medical Sonographers and Cardiovascular Technologists and Technicians, Including Vascular Technologists, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, January 8, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/diagnostic-medical-sonographers.htm
Diagnostic Medical Sonographers, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment Statistics, Occupational Employment and Wages, May, 2013, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/physical-therapist-assistants-and-aides.htm
Employment Projections, Industry-occupation matrix data, by occupation, Bureau of Labor Statistics, December 19, 2013, http://www.bls.gov/emp/ep_table_108.htm
Licensed Practical and Licensed Vocational Nurses, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, January 8, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/dental-hygienists.htm
Licensed Practical and Licensed Vocational Nurses, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment Statistics, Occupational Employment and Wages, May, 2013, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes292021.htm
Physical Therapist Assistants and Aides, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, January 8, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/diagnostic-medical-sonographers.htm
Physical Therapist Assistants, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment Statistics, Occupational Employment and Wages, May, 2013, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes312021.htm
Projections Central, State Occupational Projections, Long Term Occupational Projections, http://www.projectionscentral.com/Projections/LongTerm