Careers in the Medical Field

Dominique W. Brooks
medical jobs

As the medical field advances, career opportunities in healthcare become increasingly diverse. Even outside the clinic, there are many ways to make a living while supporting the healthcare needs of the community. While clinical positions involve direct patient care, non-clinical jobs focus on administration, sales, and other important behind the scenes activities.

Jobs that Need a Certificate or Two-Year Degree

These positions do not require a great deal of schooling, but can still be very fulfilling.

Licensed Practical Nurses

Licensed practical nurse (LPN) programs typically run between 12 and 24 months in duration. After completion, the LPN needs to pass an examination to get a license. LPN programs are often a better option for those who would like complete a shorter course of training and begin work earlier.

Certified Nurse Assistants

Depending on state laws and the needs of specific clinics, certified nurse assistants or CNAs may also be known as nursing assistants, nurse's aides, or patient care technicians. These training programs vary in length from two weeks to more than six months, and may be offered by local community colleges, the Red Cross, or clinic-sponsored on-the-job training programs. After completing a formal training program, the CNA needs to pass a licensing exam before working

Medical Assistants

Not to be confused with that of a PA or NA, the work of a medical assistant may take place within or outside of the clinical setting. Medical assistants may support physicians and nurses in patient care, but they may also specialize in accounting, record keeping, insurance processing, or diagnostic laboratory procedures. In some states there is no specific coursework for this job; most require a high school diploma and on-the-job training.

Medical Technicians

There are several types of medical technicians, to include cardiovascular, dialysis, ultrasound, radiology, surgical, and medical lab technicians. They typically run diagnostic tests and operate necessary machinery, such as dialysis machines, MRI's, and ultrasounds. In some cases a certificate, associate degree, or even bachelor's degree will be required.

Dental Hygienists

This job entails doing routine cleanings of the teeth and checking for signs of disease or abnormalities. They do root planning, take x-rays, and apply sealants and fluoride treatments to protect against cavities. Dental hygienists need a 2 year associate degree; many states require licensure.

EMT/Paramedics

Paramedics and EMTs respond to emergency calls on-site. They perform rescue breathing, CPR, cardiac life support, administer oxygen, and more to get the patients stable. Both have to complete a formal education program and obtain a license.

Physical Therapy Assistants

Physical therapy assistants work under the supervision of physician therapists caring for patients needing rehabilitation. PTAs must complete a formal, yet shorter, program of study (associate degree) and are also required to fulfill state-specific licensure requirements.

Health Information Technicians

Often, an associate degree is necessary to become a health information technician. A background in medical coding will also help get a job in this field because this job entails the organizing and analyzing of medical records for every patient procedure. Sometimes coding the procedures for insurance purposes is also a job duty.

Home Health Aides

Home health aides provide care for physically ill individuals in their homes, such as the elderly, convalescent, or disabled. They administer medication and check pulses, respiration rates and temperature. They also assist patients in completing prescribed exercises, moving to and from bed, bathing, dressing, grooming. Aides also give massages and help with artificial limbs. There is no official training program but if the aide works in a nursing home, he or she may have to complete a program and get certified.

Medical Billing and Coding Specialists

This job has to do with making sure what's on the paperwork at the doctor's office matches up with the way the insurance companies will interpret the claims. These same codes are also used when ordering tests for patients. Medical coders are not required to have an undergraduate degree but having an extensive knowledge of anatomy and science is important. There are courses and an exam to take for coders. Medical billing fills the important role of processing and filing insurance claims and following up to make sure that payment is made per the terms of each individual policy. There are specific courses for medical billing and a person can get certified if desired.

Respiratory Therapists

Respiratory therapists diagnose and treat respiratory and cardiovascular problems, such as asthma, bronchitis, emphysema, strokes, and heart attacks. At least an associate degree is needed but there are bachelor's degree programs as well.

Positions that Require a Four-Year Degree

Other health care positions require an undergraduate degree.

Pharmaceutical Sales Representatives

Pharmaceutical sales representatives visit doctors' offices in order to educate physicians on new drugs and provide product samples for them to give to their patients. They also research physicians' prescribing patterns in their territory. These people should have taken science courses while completing their undergraduate degrees; some companies require some graduate work as well.

Registered Nurses

There are different types of nurses, but the basic duties include providing patient care, making sure the doctor's orders are carried out, administer medications to patients, and observing the patients. They may also be responsible for explaining a patient's illness to family. A registered nurse can get certified in several ways: a 4 year nursing degree (bachelor's of science in nursing), an associate degree, or a diploma from a certified program.

Jobs that Need More Than Four Years of School

Certain medical care positions require a significant amount of training before you can enter practice. This typically includes college, some graduate level course work, and supervised clinical rotations.

Physicians/Doctors

To become a medical doctor, one must complete an intensive program of undergraduate and graduate studies, followed by hands-on training via a clinical residency in a hospital setting. While attending medical school, future physicians select a specialty such as family medicine, pediatrics, or obstetrics. After completing their residency, physicians must pass board certifications and go through state licensing procedures before they can practice.

Physician Assistants

A physician assistant needs to complete 4 years of college and an additional educational program which usually takes 2 years to complete. These clinicians work under supervision of a doctor to diagnose patients, order tests and x-rays, and discuss preventative health care. They may also treat minor injuries.

Pharmacists

Pharmacists dispense medication to patients with prescriptions. They also have to continuously research medications to familiarize themselves with potential reactions between medications and new drugs on the market. To become a pharmacist, a person needs to complete at least 3 years of undergraduate classes and get admitted to a college of pharmacy. After completing the 3-4 year program, the pharmacist must pass 2 exams to obtain a state license.

Dentists

You need four years of undergraduate school and 4 years of dental school; if a dentist wants to specialize, he or she must complete a 1-2 year residency program. Dentists prevent, diagnose, and treat problems within the mouth such as tooth decay. They also repair chipped teeth, prescribe dentures, and perform root canals.

Occupational Therapists

This career involves helping patients become more independent again after injury or illness. They help patients regain strength, coordination, range of motion, and posture through exercises, taking into account pain, swelling, or wounds. An occupational therapist needs to complete undergraduate course work and at least 2 years of graduate school.

Physical Therapists

Physical therapists are in high demand in the medical field. Individuals who work in this capacity help patients with physical disabilities and well as those who are recovering from injuries that impair their physical mobility. Physical therapists must complete intense undergraduate and graduate-level education and training prior to becoming licensed to practice in their state.

Speech Therapists

Speech-language pathologists work with patients to treat speech problems and eating and swallowing difficulties. Some work at home and others work in clinics, rehabilitation hospitals, and nursing homes. A speech therapist needs at least a master's degree and must be licensed by the state.

Nurse Practitioners

These clinicians provide primary and some acute care and can work in a clinic with a physician or alone. To become a nurse practitioner, you have to complete either a master's of nursing or doctorate in nursing practice and obtain state licensure.

Audiologists

Audiologists do their best to ensure healthy ears and communication competency, and to identify and prevent hearing loss and auditory dysfunction. They also make recommendations on hearing aids and other technology, counsel patients, and provide rehabilitation services. Audiologists must complete a doctorate program in audiology and state licensure.

Another Option: Practice Management

With the trend toward large, multiple-physician practices, the non-clinical field of practice management has expanded greatly. Some medical practice managers move up into their jobs from lower level office administration positions, and others enter the field after completing a prescribed program of study in Healthcare Administration.

Licensure is not required to work in this capacity, but most hospitals and large practices prefer to hire individuals with specific certifications to manage their offices. Popular certifications in this field include:

Career Growth in the Medical Field

These are only a few of the many different career opportunities available in the medical field. If you're interesting in learning about additional types of jobs in this industry, see the Occupational Outlook Handbook published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

If you're looking for an occupation with long term growth potential, it's a good idea to consider a medical profession. Due to technological advances in healthcare and a rapidly aging population, medical professionals are likely to remain in high demand for many years to come.

Careers in the Medical Field