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Is healthcare a good career path? Depending on the role you pursue, healthcare can offer strong job satisfaction, high salaries, and tremendous potential for professional growth.
This guide to medical field jobs outlines different roles and describes the necessary education.
Learn more about the best-paying jobs in healthcare and other valuable information to help you find your dream job.
Healthcare Career and Jobs Outlook
With so many healthcare careers to choose from, you can find an exciting medical field job for any level of education, desired salary range, or professional interest.
Many healthcare jobs are growing much faster than the national average, and employer demand is high. Some of the best jobs for the next decade are in healthcare — for good reason.
Benefits of a Career in Medicine
Medical careers offer multiple benefits, including:
Some of the fastest-growing jobs in the United States, especially in nursing, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) High salaries, even for positions that require only two years of college, so you can start earning quickly Many positions that are suited to career changers and even have education tracks specifically for changers Being in demand in nearly every part of the country Loan forgiveness programs and scholarships for educational debt A variety of fields to explore The satisfaction of helping others, whether hands-on as a direct provider or behind the scenes
Many professionals enter healthcare, especially nursing, with no degree or a two-year degree. They then participate in further education throughout their careers, thanks to career and education paths that take advantage of their earlier education and experience.
Drawbacks of a Career in Medicine
However, healthcare careers have their drawbacks. For many, these include:
Most medical field majors are difficult, can be cost-prohibitive, and bring heavy loan debt A high level of stress that can lead to burnout Frustration with paperwork and insurance requirements Long shifts and unpredictable hours, including being on-call for emergencies Front-line positions, especially for many medical jobs without a degree, that can be physically demanding or even dangerous Staffing instability, high patient-to-staff ratios, and compassion fatigue can lead to burnout A high rate of change that calls for constant learning and relearning
Highest Paying Healthcare Jobs
The best-paying jobs in healthcare require a doctorate or other professional degree, though the time it takes to earn one varies.
Physicians often spend 11-15 years in school and then in training, while nurse practitioners may have only 5 or 6 years of schooling.
Other professionals, such as veterinarians and nurse anesthetists, must also have a doctorate, but these doctorates take 3 to 4 years and do not require a master's.
These are the 2021 median salaries from the BLS for some of the best-paying jobs in healthcare.
- Physicians: $208,000
- Dentists: $163,220
- Nurse Anesthetists: $195,610
- Podiatrists: $145,840
- Pharmacists: $128,570
- Optometrists: $124,300
- Physician Assistants: $121,530
- Nurse Practitioners: $120,680
- Veterinarians: $100,370
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Healthcare Education & Training Requirements
Is healthcare a good career path for those who do not want to spend much time in school? There are several healthcare careers that require just a high school diploma or GED certificate, though these roles do require considerable on-the-job learning.
Other medical field jobs require a graduate degree or doctorate for even entry-level positions.
High School Diploma or GED Certificate
- Potential Careers: Home health and personal care aide, veterinary assistant, pharmacy technician, opticians
- Popular Programs: Medical assistant certificate, dental assistant certificate, medical coding certificate, health nutrition certificate, medical office administration certificate, practical nursing diploma
- Program Length: 6-12 months
- Potential Careers: Medical assistant, dental assistant, medical biller and coder, community health worker, medical records technician, licensed practical nurse
- Popular Programs: Associate in medical assisting, associate in health information technology, associate in medical billing and coding, associate in dental hygiene, associate in nursing
- Degree Length: 2 years
- Potential Careers: Medical assistant, health information technician, medical biller and coder, dental hygienist, registered nurse
- Popular Programs: Bachelor's in nursing, RN-to-BSN, bachelor's in health informatics, bachelor's in healthcare administration, bachelor's in nutrition
- Degree Length: 4 years
- Potential Careers: Registered nurse, clinical informatics specialist, healthcare administrator, healthcare manager, dietician or nutritionist
- Popular Programs: Master's in nursing, RN-to-MSN, master's in healthcare administration, master's in nutrition, master's in public health, master's in sports medicine
- Degree Length: 2 years
- Potential Careers: Nurse practitioner, nutritionist, healthcare administrator, epidemiologist, health educator, sports
Doctorate or Professional Degree
- Popular Programs: Doctor of nursing practice, Ph.D. in healthcare administration, doctor of public health, doctor of pharmacy, doctor of dental medicine, doctor of veterinary medicine, doctor of chiropractic
- Degree Length: 4-6 years
- Potential Careers: Nurse practitioner, medical and health services manager, health policy analyst, health researcher, pharmacist, dentist, veterinarian, chiropractor
Skills and Interests Medical Professionals Need
Every medical career requires attention to detail and a strong ethical code. In nearly every healthcare career, somebody's life or health depends on you doing your job well.
Most jobs also require you to be able to learn and adapt rapidly, because medicine as a field can change quickly. What was a best practice and your professional habit one week may be replaced the next week by a new approach.
If you have one of many patient-facing careers in medicine, you will also need a combination of empathy and the ability to detach yourself from a patient or family member's physical and emotional pain.
Healthcare Job Work-Life Balance
Work-life balance and stress can be a downside to many careers in medicine. Many nurses working in hospitals and care facilities have long shifts, including weekends, holidays, and night schedules.
Scheduling demands can make it challenging to plan vacations, events, and appointments. Especially for smaller independent practices, veterinarians are on call for emergencies, and agricultural or large-animal veterinarians need to travel to the patient in any type of weather, in out-of-the-way areas.
Other healthcare careers, such as healthcare administration, offer more predictable hours. Healthcare educators who teach full-time have predictable schedules, though they may teach weekend or evening classes.
School nurses or on-site nurses in corporate locations often work regular office hours. Doctors and nurses who work for insurance companies or other corporations also can work office hours and regular schedules.
Healthcare Work Environments
Most medical professionals work in dedicated healthcare settings such as hospitals, nursing homes, physician offices, or clinics, but they may also work in other settings, such as military bases, prisons, cruise ships, or on large corporate campuses.
In some cases, healthcare jobs may require work in difficult or dangerous conditions including emergency relief or serving combat troops. Even medical offices vary in atmosphere, from urban high-end dermatology, cosmetic surgery, and dentist offices that resemble spas to remote facilities for low-income, rural populations.
Some healthcare professionals, like nurses, can choose from a variety of workplaces, including hospital systems, physician offices, long-term care facilities, and government clinics. Other professionals have little flexibility in workplace choice, like the majority of paramedics who spend their days in ambulances.
Frequently Asked Questions About Healthcare Careers
Is healthcare a good career path?
Demand for most medical field jobs is growing, according to the BLS, and the best-paying jobs in healthcare offer six-figure salaries. However, many healthcare jobs are high-stress and have a high risk of burnout.
How do I choose a career in the medical field?
When choosing from the many jobs in healthcare, consider how much education they require, the typical work settings, stress levels, work-life balance, and salary. These considerations can help you narrow down the many medical professions you want to consider to a manageable list.
What do healthcare jobs pay?
Salaries for careers in the medical field range widely. The highest-paying jobs in the medical field pay hundreds of thousands annually, while the lowest-paying ones are well-below the national average. Generally, the more education and responsibility required, the higher the salary.
What is the fastest growing healthcare career?
Nurse practitioners are the fastest-growing healthcare career. The BLS projects between 2021 and 2031, nurse practitioner jobs will grow 40%.
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