The health-care industry is the largest and fastest-growing in the United States, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. From 2008 to 2018, the number of health-care jobs grew by 23.2% and is projected to increase by 17% for the decade ahead. The industry is expected to eventually employ 13.8% of all U.S. workers, up from 12.4% in 2018.
Half of the roughly 20 million people employed in the health-care industry fall under the category of "health-care practitioners and technical occupations" or "health-care support occupations," which means they provide care to patients, according to BLS. The rest of the industry's workforce is made up of everyone else who works at a doctor's office or hospital, ranging from administrators to secretaries and janitors, though not insurance company workers.
Much of the industry's job growth coincides with the increasing popularity of team-based health care, where assistants collaborate on designing treatment plans with doctors or carry out treatments under their supervision. This is, in many cases, a cost-saving measure. Still, the nine highest-paying jobs in the field that don't require an M.D. all have median salaries above $70,000/year, according to BLS, and four of them don't even require a master's degree.
Nurse practitioners and physician assistants fill a similar role: They handle routine medical work that could be performed by doctors, like your annual checkup. Legally, nurse practitioners in many states and all physician assistants need to work with physicians under some kind of collaborative agreement. In practice, both are often able to suggest treatments and order certain diagnostic tests.
Many physician assistants operate their own clinics, with occasional onsite visits serving as the only form of physician oversight. The main difference between the two is based in their training and approach to the job: Nurse practitioners typically care for certain groups of people, like children or the elderly, while physician assistants usually specialize in treating specific diseases or ailments.
Occupational therapists help injured or disabled patients regain or develop the skills necessary to perform various everyday tasks. In addition to the physical aspect of building those skills, they also work to integrate them into the patient's day-to-day by evaluating their home and workplace, and teaching their loved ones how to provide care.
Radiation therapy is one of the most common forms of cancer treatment, according to the American Cancer Society, which says over half of cancer patients undergo it. A radiation therapist operates the equipment, determines the exact location to apply radiation, safely protects the patient from excess exposure, and guides the patient through the process.
Genetic counselors work in a kind of medical risk assessment — they analyze a patient's genetics to understand how prevalent genetic disorders, birth defects, and diseases might be in the patient's family. If you have a family history of any ailment with a genetic component, a genetic counselor can provide insight into the likelihood that you or your children will encounter it later in life and help you make decisions based on that information.
Speech pathologists work with a wide variety of patients to help them overcome verbal communication and swallowing disorders. Those patients can include children with speech impediments or adults who have lost some of their cognitive capabilities to a stroke, a brain injury, or a degenerative disease.
Nuclear medicine and radiation therapy both involve the use of concentrated radiation to create images that can aid in making diagnoses. In the case of nuclear medicine, techs administer radioactive drugs that make diseased parts of the body appear differently in images created with gamma radiation. Nuclear medicine techs also frequently contribute to emergency response efforts after nuclear disasters.
Most of your time in a dentist's chair may actually be spent with a hygienist. They spend much of their time doing cleanings and can also examine patients for the kinds of ailments that happen when you don't brush well enough and collaborate with dentists to develop treatment plans.
Registered nurses administer medication, perform tests, and do much of the actual day-to-day care work. Successful nursing requires a mix of critical thinking skills and emotional intelligence. Nursing is one of the most popular undergraduate majors in the United States and the top non-business major, according to Georgetown's Center on Education and the Workforce.
More from Grow: