Medical assistants, LPNs and RNs all work in the health care field, but their responsibilities and wages can vary. Read on for more.

Which Booming Health-Care Career Is for You?

The health care industry is poised to experience significant growth, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In fact, it is predicted to generate more than 3.2 million new jobs between 2008 and 2018. According to CNBC, one reason for the increased need for health-care professionals is that 78 million baby boomers will be reaching retirement age in that period. Additionally, the Congressional Budget Office notes that technological advances in medicine are increasing the demand for health care services--and for health care professionals, which could make this an opportune time to consider a career in the high-demand field of health care.

Here's a look at three of the most promising career paths, each with different duties and responsibilities, educational requirements and earnings. It's important to weigh those differences in making a decision about your vocational education path and subsequent career choices.


    Medical assistants

    A 34 percent increase in job openings for medical assistants is predicted nationwide from 2008 to 2018, which could result in job opportunities growing from 483,600 positions to 647,500. The majority of medical assistants, 61.1 percent, work in physicians' offices. The BLS reports that 2009 mean annual wages for medical assistants were $29,450. Medical assistants typically complete their training at vocational school, where programs include one-year certificates or diplomas and two-year associate degrees. They can also apply for certification to enhance their job opportunities. Responsibilities can vary from administrative or clinical duties to working in a specialty field such as ophthalmology or podiatry. Medical assistants are generally supervised by office managers or health care professionals.


    Licensed practical nurse/licensed vocational nurse

    A 21.9 percent increase in job openings for licensed practical nurses (LPNs) and licensed vocational nurses (LVNs) is predicted from 2008 to 2018, and job opportunities are forecasted to grow from 753,600 positions to 909,200. The difference between these two professions is the state in which you work and the terminology that is used there. Both California and Texas use LVN; other states use LPN. Some 27.6 percent of LPNs work primarily in nursing care facilities, and 24.6 percent work in public and private hospitals. LVNs earned mean annual wages of $40,900, according to May 2009 BLS data. LPNs work under the direct supervision of an RN or a physician and can have a variety of clinical responsibilities. Education most often includes a one-year program through one of the vocational schools as well as supervised clinical training. LPNs are required to pass the National Council Licensure Examination, or NCLEX-PN, and meet any requirements set by the state in which they plan to practice.


    Registered nurse

    This field is expected to see a 23.4 percent job increase for 2008 to 2018, and opportunities are expected to grow from 2.6 million positions to 2.7 million. About 60 percent of RNs work in public and private hospitals. According to May 2009 BLS data, registered nurses earned mean annual wages of $66,530. The most common vocational education for RNs is either an associate or bachelor's degree. Generally a higher degree brings more responsibility and job opportunities. RNs must also pass the National Council Licensure Examination, NCLEX-RN, and meet any state requirements to practice.


    Which of these health care careers is right for you?

    Despite the differences, there are similarities among the three careers. But much of your career decision should be guided by your personal interests and circumstances. A one-year medical assistant certificate or diploma can have you in the job market quickly. If you earn an associate degree, however, you could eventually complete an ADN to BSN program, and earn a bachelor of science degree in nursing. There are also LPN to ADN and LPN to BSN programs.

    The more nursing education you have, the more responsibility you could assume and the more money you could potentially make. It's up to you to make the decision about which nursing career to pursue, but you might want to consider that once you start working you could soon become interested in pursuing further education.

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