According the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the health care field is the largest industry in the United States today--employing over 13 million wage and salary workers in 2004. Of the twenty fastest growing occupations today, eight of them are in health care. It is anticipated that 20% of the new jobs created between now and 2014 will be in the health care industry--and most of these jobs require four years or less of college.
Many of these jobs will be in the area of health care referred to as Allied Health. The term Allied Health is used to identify a cluster of health professions and covers as many as 100 different jobs (but not physicians and nurses). What are the Allied Health careers anticipating the most growth? While all Allied Health careers can anticipate growth in the coming years, these ten careers are all expected to grow over 25% each year--meaning that these careers will provide the greatest long-term job security. This top ten list includes educational requirements and average salaries.
1. Medical Assistants. These Allied Health professionals perform administrative and clinical tasks to keep the offices of physicians, podiatrists, chiropractors, and other health practitioners running smoothly. The duties of medical assistants vary from office to office, depending on the location and size of the practice and the practitioner's specialty.
Medical assistants perform many administrative duties, including answering telephones, greeting patients, updating and filing patients' medical records, filling out insurance forms, handling correspondence, scheduling appointments, arranging for hospital admission and laboratory services, and handling billing and bookkeeping.
As the health care industry expands because of technological advances in medicine and the growth and aging of the population, more Medical Assistants will be needed. In fact, this is anticipated to be the fastest growing career through 2014.
Education Requirements: Most Medical Assistants complete postsecondary programs that last either one year, resulting in a certificate or diploma, or two years, resulting in an associate degree.
Salary: The average salary for Medical Assistants is $24,610.
2. Cardiovascular Technologists and Technicians. These Allied Health professionals assist physicians in diagnosing and treating cardiac (heart) and peripheral vascular (blood vessel) ailments. Cardiovascular technologists may specialize in any of three areas of practice: invasive cardiology, echocardiography, and vascular technology. Cardiovascular technologists specializing in invasive procedures are called cardiology technologists.
Technologists prepare patients for cardiac catheterization and balloon angioplasty. During the procedures, they monitor patients' blood pressure and heart rate with EKG equipment and notify the physician if something appears to be wrong. Technologists also may prepare and monitor patients during open-heart surgery and during the insertion of pacemakers and stents that open up blockages in arteries to the heart and major blood vessels.
Rapid employment growth is expected for Cardiovascular Technologists as the population ages, because older people have a higher incidence of heart problems and use more diagnostic imaging. Employment of vascular technologists and echocardiographers will also grow as advances in vascular technology and sonography reduce the need for more costly and invasive procedures.
Education Requirements: The majority of Cardiovascular Technologists complete a 2-year junior or community college program, but 4-year programs are increasingly available.
Salary: The average salary for Cardiovascular Technologists is $38,690.
3. Diagnostic Medical Sonographers. Also known as ultrasonographers, these Allied Health professionals use special equipment to direct nonionizing, high frequency sound waves into areas of the patient's body. Sonographers operate the equipment, which collects reflected echoes and forms an image that may be videotaped, transmitted, or photographed for interpretation and diagnosis by a physician.
As the population grows and ages, increasing the demand for diagnostic imaging and therapeutic technology means incredible growth in this field. Additionally, sonography is becoming an increasingly attractive alternative to radiologic procedures, as patients seek safer treatment methods, further increase the demand for sonographers.
Education Requirements: Colleges and universities offer formal training for Diagnostic Medical Sonographers in both 2- and 4-year programs, culminating in an associate or a bachelor's degree. Two-year programs are most prevalent.
Salary: The average salary for diagnostic medical sonographers is $52,490.
4. Physician Assistants. These Allied Health Professionals practice medicine under the supervision of physicians and surgeons. Physicians Assistants are formally trained to provide diagnostic, therapeutic, and preventive health care services, as delegated by a physician. Working as members of the health care team, they take medical histories, examine and treat patients, order and interpret laboratory tests and X rays, and make diagnoses. Physicians Assistants may be the principal care providers in rural or inner city clinics, where a physician is present for only 1 or 2 days each week
Employment of Physicians Assistants is expected to grow much faster than average, ranking among the fastest growing occupations, due to anticipated expansion of the health care industry and an emphasis on cost containment, resulting in increasing utilization of Physicians Assistants.
Education Requirements: Physicians Assistants must complete accredited, formal education program and pass a National exam to obtain a license. Physician's Assistant programs usually last at least 2 years and are full time.
Salary: The average salary for physician assistants in full-time clinical practice is $74,264.
5. Respiratory Therapists and Respiratory Therapy Technicians. These Allied Health professionals--also known as respiratory care practitioners--evaluate, treat, and care for patients with breathing or other cardiopulmonary disorders. Respiratory Therapists assume primary responsibility for all respiratory care therapeutic treatments and diagnostic procedures, including the supervision of respiratory therapy technicians. Respiratory therapy technicians follow specific, well-defined respiratory care procedures under the direction of respiratory therapists and physicians
Job opportunities are expected to be very good, especially for respiratory therapists with cardiopulmonary care skills or experience working with infants. But all areas of Respiratory Therapy expect substantial growth due to the jump in the numbers of the middle-aged and elderly population--a development that will heighten the incidence of cardiopulmonary disease--and because of the expanding role of respiratory therapists in the early detection of pulmonary disorders, case management, disease prevention, and emergency care.
Educational Requirements: An associate's degree is required for entry into the field. Most programs award associate's or bachelor's degrees and prepare graduates for jobs as advanced respiratory therapists.
Salary: The average salary for respiratory therapists is $43,140.
6. Athletic Trainers. These Allied Health professionals help prevent and treat injuries for people of all ages. Their clients include everyone from professional athletes to industrial workers. Athletic trainers are often one of the first heath care providers on the scene when injuries occur, and therefore must be able to recognize, evaluate, and assess injuries and provide immediate care when needed. They also are heavily involved in the rehabilitation and reconditioning of injuries.
Job growth for Athletic Trainers is expected to be extensive, and will be concentrated in health care industry settings, such as ambulatory heath care services and hospitals.
Educational Requirements: A bachelor's degree from an accredited college or university is required for almost all jobs as an athletic trainer.
Salary: The salary of an athletic trainer depends on experience and job responsibilities, and varies by job setting, but the average salary for athletic trainers is $33,940.
7. Surgical Technologists. These Allied Health professionals, also called scrubs and surgical or operating room technicians, assist in surgical operations under the supervision of surgeons, registered nurses, or other surgical personnel. Before an operation, surgical technologists help prepare the operating room by setting up surgical instruments and equipment, sterile drapes, and sterile solutions. They assemble both sterile and non-sterile equipment, get patients ready for surgery, and transport patients to the operating room. During surgeries, Surgical Technologists also observe patients' vital signs, check charts, and assist the surgical team with putting on sterile gowns and gloves.
Because the number of surgical procedures is expected to rise as the population grows and ages, job prospects for Surgical Technicians are extremely good.
Educational Requirements: Surgical technologists receive their training in formal programs offered by community and junior colleges, vocational schools, universities, hospitals, and the military.
Salary: The average salary of surgical technologists is $34,010.
8. Clinical laboratory Technologists. These Allied Health professionals--also referred to as clinical laboratory scientists or medical technologists--perform most of the clinical laboratory tests that play a crucial role in the detection, diagnosis, and treatment of disease. Clinical laboratory personnel examine and analyze body fluids, and cells. They look for bacteria, parasites, and other microorganisms; analyze the chemical content of fluids; match blood for transfusions; and test for drug levels in the blood to show how a patient is responding to treatment. Technologists also prepare specimens for examination, count cells, and look for abnormal cells in blood and body fluids.
In the coming years the number of job openings in this field is expected to continue to exceed the number of job seekers, particularly as the volume of laboratory tests continues to increase with both population growth and the development of new types of tests.
Educational Requirements: Medical and clinical laboratory technicians generally have either an associate degree from a community or junior college or a certificate from a hospital or a vocational and technical school. The usual requirement for an entry-level position as a clinical laboratory technologist is a bachelor's degree with a major in medical technology or in one of the life sciences.
Salary: Average salary for medical and clinical laboratory technologists is $45,730.
9. Medical and Health Services Managers. Health care is a business and, like every other business, it needs good management to keep it running smoothly. These Allied Health professionals--also referred to as health care executives or health care administrators--plan, direct, coordinate, and supervise the delivery of health care. Medical and health services managers include specialists and generalists. Specialists are in charge of specific clinical departments or services, while generalists manage or help manage an entire facility or system. Increasingly, medical and health services managers will work in organizations in which they must optimize efficiency of a variety of related services--for example, those ranging from inpatient care to outpatient follow-up care.
As the health care industry continues to expand and diversify, job opportunities for Medical and Health Services Managers will be especially good in offices of health practitioners, general medical and surgical hospitals, home health care services, and outpatient care centers.
Educational Requirements: A master's degree in health services administration or business administration is the standard credential for most positions in this field. A bachelor's degree is adequate for some entry-level positions in smaller facilities, at the departmental level within health care organizations, and in health information management.
Salary: The average salary for medical and health services managers is $67,430, but can go as high as $117,990.
10. Dietitians and Nutritionists. These Allied Health professionals plan food and nutrition programs and supervise the preparation and serving of meals. They help to prevent and treat illnesses by promoting healthy eating habits and recommending dietary modifications. Dietitians also manage food service systems for institutions such as hospitals and schools, promote sound eating habits through education, and conduct research.
The increasing emphasis on disease prevention through improved dietary habits, along with the growing and aging population, will boost the demand for meals and nutritional counseling in hospitals, residential care facilities, schools, prisons, community health programs, and home health care agencies. Public interest in nutrition and increased emphasis on health education and prudent lifestyles also will spur demand, especially in management.
Educational Requirements: Dietitians and nutritionists need at least a bachelor's degree in dietetics, foods and nutrition, food service systems management, or a related area.
Salary: The average salary for dietitians and nutritionists is $43,630.