Medical Careers in High Demand

Jobs in the medical field are consistently in demand, even in periods of economic downturn. Some medical occupations, however, are expected to grow faster than others. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that the six occupations listed in this article will grow the fastest of all medical occupations over the next ten years.

1. Home Health Aides

The fastest growing medical career, the occupation of home health aide is expected to grow 50% in the next decade. This growth is much faster than average.

Home health aides provide in-home care to patients who need help with the tasks of basic daily living. These patients may need this assistance because of age, illness, cognitive impairment, or disability. Home health aides may also be a part of a hospice program for terminally ill patients.

The duties and responsibilities of a home health aide will vary depending on the needs of the patient, but they typically assist with personal care tasks such as feeding, bathing, using the restroom, and moving. They may also help with transportation, running errands, or housekeeping tasks such as cleaning, laundry, or cooking. In addition to this assistance, home health aides are responsible for some basic medical tasks such as monitoring vital signs and administering medications.

This occupation is attractive to many people because it doesn't require a college degree or high school diploma. A minimal amount of training is required, and the job can be a perfect stepping stone to other healthcare professions. On the downside, pay is lower than other medical jobs, because not much training is required.

2. Medical Assistant

The demand for medical assistants is projected to grow by 33.9% over the next ten years. Medical assistants support doctors and nurses in their work by performing basic medical tasks such as taking vital signs, administering injections, preparing exam rooms, and assisting with various medical procedures. Medical assistants may also help with insurance coding, record-keeping, and billing.

Employers do not always require a college degree when hiring medical assistants. There are certification programs available for medical assisting, which typically take one or two years to complete, but many medical assistants are simply trained on the job. Certification typically avails the medical assistant with more job options and the possibility of higher pay.

Of all healthcare occupations, medical assisting is the most versatile. Medical assistants are needed in a wide range of environments, from hospitals to physician's offices and more, and across all medical specialties. It's also an excellent way to "test the waters" of the healthcare industry. It's relatively easy to become a medical assistant, and many medical assistants decide later on to further their education and become a nurse or a doctor. On the downside, pay is relatively low ($22,000 to $30,000 per year), and upward mobility is limited.

3. Registered Nurse

The demand for registered nurses (RNs) is projected to grow by 22.2 in the next ten years, which translates to over a half a million jobs added during that time span.

In order to become registered, nurses must earn an associate's degree in nursing (ADN) or a bachelor of science degree in nursing (BSN), and then complete the NCLEX-RN certification examination with a passing score. Many RNs later go on to more specialized roles, such as a CRNA.

Because more education and training is required, RNs are paid high wages than home health aides and medical assistants. The average starting pay for registered nurses is $21.83/hr, or roughly $42,000 a year. RNs are needed across a wide range of medical specialties and environments, from hospitals to medical offices and everywhere in between.

4. Physicians and Surgeons

It's expected that job prospects for physicians and surgeons will grow by 21.8 percent over the next ten years. This rate is actually somewhat disconcerting, since demand for these professionals is already outpacing the supply. Physicians and surgeons have a high level of responsibility and must undergo a large amount of education, which means they are some of the highest paying jobs in the medical industry.

Physicians are responsible for analyzing a patient's symptoms and condition, making a diagnosis, and overseeing a treatment plan for recovery. This treatment may include medications, therapy, surgery, or various other procedures. Some physicians are more generalized, offering preventative care or treatment of basic chronic issues such as diabetes or hypertension. Others are highly specialized, and work only with certain bodily systems and conditions.

Physicians and surgeons must complete a bachelor's degree as well as a four-year graduate program at an accredited medical school. This schooling results in either a Medical Doctorate degree (M.D.) or a Doctorate of Osteopathy degree (D.O.), depending on the program attended and the type of medicine the physician wishes to practice. After this schooling is finished, a physician must complete a residency training program, which may last 3 to 5 years. During this time, the physician receives hands-on, on-the-job training under the supervision of experienced physicians. Even more training may be required beyond this residency period for some specialists.

Physicians earn, on average, $120,000 to $175,000 a year. Specialists and subspecialists are typically paid much higher: over $500,000 a year in many cases.

5. Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) & Licensed Vocational Nurse (LVN)

The Bureau of Labor Statistics expects that demand for LPN/LVN jobs will increase by 20.7% over the next decade.

LPNs and LVNs are responsible for a large amount of direct patient care, and as such it is important that these professionals be very patient and compassionate, and skilled caregivers. They help patients with a wide range of daily care tasks, such as feeding and bathing, as well as medical tasks such as collecting samples for laboratory tests, giving injections, dressing wounds, and monitoring medical equipment.

LPNs/LVNs must hold a high school diploma (or equivalent), and complete a one-year training and education program. This program, often offered by vocational schools or community colleges, combines hands-on training with classroom instruction. After completing this program, the LPN/LVN must complete the NCLEX-PN (the licensure exam for LPNs and LVNs) with a passing score.

Because more training and education is required, LPNs and LVNs enjoy a higher rate of pay than home health aides and medical assistants: an average of $39,030 per year. In the hierarchy of medical occupations, LPNs and LVNs are one step above medical assistants and one step below registered nurses, in terms of educational requirements and pay grade.

6. Nursing Aides, Orderlies, Attendants (Certified Nurse Assistant)

Nursing aide, orderly, and attendant are all synonyms for Certified Nurse Assistant (CNA). This occupation is expected to grow by 18.8% over the next ten years.

CNAs often work as part of a nursing team, usually under the supervision of a registered nurse or other licensed healthcare professional. They work in a range of environments, such as hospitals, nursing homes, or in patient's houses. CNAs assist patients with personal care tasks such as feeding, bathing, and dressing, as well as medical tasks such as taking vital signs. Many CNAs work as home health aides, but not all home health aides are CNAs.

Educational and training requirements for CNAs vary by employer and by state, but in general the requirements are not overly vigorous. These professionals must typically undergo 75 hours of training, usually given by the employer. CNAs may become certified in a number of areas, such as CPR/lifesaving, but it is not always required. However, certification may lead to more job opportunities and higher pay.

CNAs earn, on average, between $20,000 and $24,000 annually.

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