You don't have to have a medical degree to start a career in healthcare; in fact, many of the 10 best health careers only require an Associate or Bachelor's degree. The best health careers offer respectable salaries, flexible schedules and a high-demand that lends itself to ongoing career stability.
The 10 Best Health Careers
Pharmacists have a vast knowledge of prescription drugs, dosage and potential interactions. They work as a resource between physicians and patients, dispensing drugs and offering advice regarding generic options and over the counter treatments. Becoming a pharmacist requires a significant commitment: on top of a bachelor's degree with a strong concentration in math and science, you also have to attend a Pharm.D. program post graduation. In the end the pay-off is worth the effort. Pharmacists have long-term career stability and can expect to make more than $80,000 each year.
2. Registered Nurse
To become a registered nurse you must pursue an R.N. or a Bachelor of Science degree in nursing from an accredited program. Registered nurses are in extremely high demand, and can feel confident writing their own ticket in almost any city or state nationwide. With high demand comes a high level of flexibility. Nurses can often choose to work part-time, full-time, on contract or by shift. Travel nursing positions are available for those who are interested in moving frequently. Depending on the area of nursing expertise, a registered nurse can expect to make between $45,000 and $90,000 annually.
3. Physician Assistant
Physician assistants work under the direct care of a doctor and are qualified to perform many of the exams and procedures that doctors perform, like running tests, removing casts and performing gynecological exams. In addition to a four-year degree, physician assistants must go through an accredited Physician Assistant (PA) program, usually requiring two additional years of study. After graduation, PAs can expect to make more than $70,000 per year.
Diagnostic medical sonographers analyze sonograms of internal organs, determine which sonograms are of use to the doctor and write reports on the sonogram's findings. Sonographers can choose between two-year and four-year training programs focusing on anatomy and physiology, medical equipment training and ethics. Doctors offices, hospitals and out-patient facilities benefit from the services of a sonographer, making job prospects solid, and the salary good. Sonographers can expect to make $25-$30 per hour.
5. Dental Hygienist
If you have an interest in teeth, you may want to consider becoming a dental hygienist, whose job it is to clean and x-ray teeth. After high school, you can enter into a dental hygienist program, usually offered at technical training schools or community colleges. The degree takes approximately two years to complete, and you'll study subjects like anatomy and radiology. After graduation you can expect to make $30 or more per hour. You'll also be able to keep dentists' hours, usually only working four days a week.
6. Physical Therapist
Physical therapists help patients recover from serious injury or illness, taking them through physical exercise programs designed to maintain and increase range of motion in the bones and joints. Physical therapists can specialize in an area of expertise, like sports medicine, geriatric or pediatric therapy. Physical therapists must have a Bachelor's degree with a concentration in anatomy, physiology and other sciences, as well as a Master's degree in Physical Therapy (PT) from an accredited program. Physical Therapists can expect to make more than $60,000 each year.
7. Respiratory Therapist
Respiratory therapists analyze and treat individuals with breathing problems by measuring lung capacity and the breakdown of oxygen and carbon dioxide in expired air. Respiratory therapists can begin working after participating in a one-year certificate program, or they can pursue more advanced training with an Associate degree. Respiratory therapists can expect to make approximately $40,000 per year.
8. Radiological Technologist
Radiological technologists take x-rays, explain the procedure to patients and maintain x-ray equipment. Radiological technologists should enjoy working with highly-technical medical equipment and working with patients to provide the best service possible while performing tests. Radiological technologist can begin working after receiving a two-year associate's degree and can expect to make approximately $40,000 on an annual basis.
9. Emergency Medical Technician
Emergency Medical Technicians, or EMTs, are often the first responders at the scene of an accident. They must learn to assess and treat medical emergencies and transport victims safely to the hospital for more advanced care. EMTs must work well with patients, feel comfortable taking charge, and respond calmly in the face of severe injury. EMTs can receive a basic certification by participating in a certain number of classroom hours and passing an exam, but to become a paramedic EMT, you must have an associate's degree in the field. EMTs can expect to make approximately $30,000 each year.
10. Licensed Practical Nurse
Licensed practical nurses, or LPNs, can start working as a nurse after receiving an Associate degree in the field. LPNs perform basic medical care like giving shots, taking vital signs and dressing wounds. Many LPNs also work in hospitals and nursing homes, assisting patients with basic living care like bathing, dressing and exercise. With a high demand for all varieties of nurses, LPNs can feel confident in the stability of their career choice. LPNs can expect to make approximately $30,000 a year.
Choosing Among the 10 Best Health Careers
If you're interested in health care, but feel lost when it comes to choosing a field, call your local hospital and ask if they allow "shadowing." Choose an area you think you might be interested in, then shadow a professional in that field for a day or two to see if you would enjoy pursuing the career further.