Of all the industries growing like crazy over the past few years, few have seen as much growth (or projected growth in the coming years) as health care. It’s a confluence of social issues—growing population (particularly aging Baby Boomers), more attention being paid to self-care, and more attention generally being paid in public to the health and wellness needs of the general population.
Industry growth means health care professionals of all kinds are needed. Whether you’re trying to decide where to focus your education to start a career in allied health or you’re looking for a job that you can build without going to med school or nursing school, there are lots of opportunities. Let’s look at some of the fastest-growing health care jobs for the coming year.
1. Registered Nurse
When you hear the word “shortage” to describe a health care field, it’s usually in reference to nurses. Nurses are one of the main backbones of the health care industry, and there is always a huge demand for competent, qualified, and compassionate professionals to step into the nursing world. Registered nurses (RNs) coordinate and provide direct patient care, assess patient condition, record patients’ medical data, administer treatments and medication as prescribed by a physician, develop treatment plans, operate and monitor medical equipment, perform diagnostic tests, and educate patients and their families on follow-up care. Nurses can be found virtually anywhere there’s a medical facility, including hospitals, doctors’ offices, home health care services, nursing homes, schools, clinics, or health-focused government agencies.
What you’ll need: RNs typically hold a bachelor’s degree in nursing (BSN), an associate’s degree in nursing (ADN), or a certificate from an accredited nursing program. In all states, nurses need to be licensed, so be sure to check your own state’s requirements for licensing (including any standardized tests like the NCLEX).
How much they make: According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), registered nurses make a median annual salary of $68,450, or $32.91 per hour.
For more on how to snag registered nurse jobs:
2. Nurse Practitioner
Nurse practitioners, also known as Advance Practice Registered Nurses (APRNs) are nurses who are located midway between registered nurses and physicians. In addition to standard nursing duties, nurse practitioners often have increased ability to coordinate primary patient care, prescribe medications, order tests, and develop treatment plans for patients.
What you’ll need: Nurse practitioners need to have a master’s degree (or higher) in an advanced nursing program, as well as pass a national exam. What a nurse practitioner can do, as well as licensing requirements, can vary by state, so be sure you’re aware of your own state’s requirements and policies on nurse practitioners.
How much they make: According to the BLS, nurse practitioners make a median annual salary of $107,460, or $51.67 per hour.
For more on how to snag nurse practitioner jobs:
3. Home Health Aide
Home health aides are caregivers who travel to patients’ homes to provide medical and daily living care. Patients may include elderly or chronically ill patients who are not living in specific nursing care facilities, but need help with daily activities. A home health aide’s duties typically include medical tasks like checking vital signs and administering medication or prescribed treatments, as well as assisting with daily life tasks like walking, using the bathroom, feeding, dressing, or leaving the house. This is a field that is growing even more than other health careers, with a rapidly expanding population of older adults who need help, but want to stay in their own homes.
What you’ll need: Home health aides typically have a high school diploma or equivalent certificate. Most home health agencies provide on-the-job training for aides, though a background in medical terminology or health care can be helpful.
How much they make: According to the BLS, home health aides make a median annual salary of $22,170, or $10.66 per hour.
For more on how to snag home health aide jobs:
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4. Physician Assistant
Physician assistants (PAs) are medical professionals who work as part of a team with physicians, surgeons, nurses, and other health care professionals. Their duties include examining, ordering, and analyzing diagnostic tests; performing treatments like setting broken bones and giving shots; prescribing medicine; developing patient care plans; and educating patients and their families. PAs typically work in hospitals, clinics, or doctors’ offices.
What you’ll need: Physician assistants typically hold a master’s degree from an accredited Physician Assistant program. All states require PAs to be licensed, so be sure to know your own state’s requirements for certification.
How much they make: According to the BLS, physician assistants make a median annual salary of $101,480, or $48.79 per hour.
For more on how to snag physician assistant jobs:
5. Dental Hygienist
Dental hygienists are the ones who often do much of the heavy lifting at your dental appointments, working directly with patients to evaluate signs of dental disease, clean teeth, apply treatments, take x-rays, educate patients on good dental care (even though you swear you’re flossing every day), and assist dentists with procedures. This is a field expected to grow much faster than average over the next year.
What you’ll need: Dental hygienists typically hold an associate’s degree from an accredited dental program. All states require dental hygienists to be licensed, so be sure to know your own state’s requirements for licensure.
How much they make: According to the BLS, nurse practitioners make a median annual salary of $72,910, or $35.05 per hour.
For more on how to snag dental hygienist jobs:
If messy bodily functions aren’t your thing, you might want to consider a career as an optometrist. Optometrists focus on patients’ eyesight, and their duties include evaluating eyesight issues, testing for eye diseases, prescribing medicine, determining the need for glasses or other corrective eyewear, performing treatments, and evaluating patients for vision-related signs of serious diseases that can affect eyesight (like diabetes).
What you’ll need: Optometrists need to complete a Doctor of Optometry (OD) program, which typically takes four years to complete (on top of an undergraduate bachelor’s degree). All states require optometrists to be licensed, so be sure to know your own state’s requirements.
How much they make: According to the BLS, nurse practitioners make a median annual salary of $106,140, or $51.03 per hour.
For more on how to snag optometrist jobs:
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7. Physical Therapy Assistant
Physical therapy assistants work with patients under the direction of a physical therapist, helping patients recover from illness or injury. Their duties typically include helping patients move according to a prescribed treatment plan, observing patients, recording patient progress and data, massaging or stretching patients’ muscles, and helping patients use devices and equipment (like walkers or crutches) to move.
What you’ll need: Physical therapy assistants need to have an associate’s degree from an accredited allied health program. All states require physical therapy assistants to be licensed or certified, so be sure to know your own state’s requirements.
How much they make: According to the BLS, nurse practitioners make a median annual salary of $45,290, or $21.77 per hour.
For more on how to snag physical therapy assistant jobs:
These first responders are the ones you want near you in a crisis—able to act calmly and help sick or injured people no matter what’s going on around them. Emergency medical technicians (EMTs) and paramedics respond to emergency calls and are responsible for assessing a patient’s condition immediately, providing emergency medical care as necessary, preparing to move the patient to a medical facility, transporting patients safely in an ambulance or other emergency vehicle, communicating patient conditions to other medical staff, keeping records of the patient’s condition and treatment, and using and maintaining emergency medical equipment. An EMT or paramedic’s cases may range from serious accidents or emergencies to basic first aid.
What you’ll need: EMTs and paramedics need to complete an accredited medical training program. All states require emergency medical personnel to be licensed or certified, so be sure to know your own state’s requirements.
How much they make: According to the BLS, nurse practitioners make a median annual salary of $32,670, or $15.71 per hour.
For more on how to snag EMT/paramedic jobs:
- 10 Jobs Where You Can Be a Hero
- 9 top jobs to pursue if you’re bilingual
- What You Need to Know About Becoming a Paramedic
- The best jobs you can work during the graveyard shift
If you’re looking for a field that is unlikely to face a downturn anytime soon, then 2018 could be the year to start looking seriously at a career in health care. Many of the fastest-growing opportunities require specific education and training programs, but if you’re not ready to make that commitment, there are lots of good opportunities for building medical experience and kicking off a challenging, fulfilling career in the health care industry.
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