Best Careers for 2020 and Beyond: Healthcare

March 21, 2015

healthOur “So you want to be a…” series was designed to help career-minded high school students think about the financial, academic, and personal factors one should consider when exploring traditional professions such as engineering, law, medicine, and teaching.

As a supplement, our Best Careers for 2020 and Beyond series will profile careers in various fields that may be a less widely-known, but offer a stimulating work environment, excellent compensation, and a favorable job-outlook in the coming decade. We begin with a profile of three jobs in the healthcare sector that fit these criteria.

Physician Assistant (PA)

Perhaps the inclusion of the word “Assistant” in this job title turns some prestige-focused young people away from this career. Yet that would be allowing semantics to get in the way of a highly-lucrative and rewarding profession that is set to grow exponentially as the U.S. population ages and demand for healthcare services continue to explode.

While technically under the supervision of doctors and surgeons, Physician Assistants are generally given a great deal of independence and responsibility. PAs in all medical areas routinely see patients, perform diagnostic tests, and write prescriptions.  They also enjoy an exceptional level of career flexibility as they are able to work in just about any medical specialty field without having to add credentials.

Physician Assistant positions are expected to grow 38% through 2022, a rate well-above almost any other profession and double that of medical doctors. There are presently almost 200 PA programs in the United States, almost four times the number that existed a decade ago.  While medical school takes upwards of 7 years to complete, a PA Master’s program can be completed in as little as two years.

Starting salaries for PAs are in the $90-100K range in most metro areas. Those who elect to work in surgery, ERs, or dermatology typically enjoy even higher compensation and are often eligible to receive bonuses on top of base compensation.

Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CNRA)

Prior to the invention of ether in the 1840s, patients undergoing surgical procedures were given nothing more than alcohol and a leather strap to bite to help manage the pain. Today, over 50 million surgical procedures are performed in the United States every year and, fortunately for us all, methods of pain management have improved dramatically in the last 170 years.

In many hospitals, it is Nurse Anesthetists, not Anesthesiologists, who take a lead role in overseeing a patient’s anesthetic care before, during, and after surgery. In fact, since 2001, 16 states have chosen to allow CNRAs to practice without the supervision of an MD-level Anesthesiologist. As a result, Nurse Anesthetists have become the sole provider of anesthesia at many rural and inner-city hospitals across the country. The autonomous role of CRNAs is likely to continue to grow in the coming years and there is already a shortage of individuals to meet current market demand. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts a 31% growth rate for the field in the next decade.

CRNA programs seek candidates who possess a B.S. degree, are Registered Nurses, and have at least one year of experience in the field. Interestingly, there is a higher prevalence of males in this branch of nursing versus all others (45% versus 8%), perhaps due to the draw of a substantial paycheck.

Anesthesia is a highly compensated field not just due to demand, but also because the stakes are high every single day. Nurse Anesthetists make a median salary of over $150,000 and many make closer to 200K. This level of remuneration is on par with many Primary Care Physicians and only requires a quarter of the schooling; Nurse Anesthetist programs can be completed in just 2-3 years, including clinical experiences.

Occupational Therapist (OT)

Perhaps some never explore occupational therapy as a career option because they are confused by its somewhat misleading job title. It would be easy to conclude that individuals in this field spend their days in corporate offices pleading with disgruntled employees to take their hand out of the paper shredder and “go to their happy place.”    

In actuality, occupational therapists help individuals develop or recover their ability to participate in their daily living/work activities. Most OTs work in hospitals, schools, and elder-care facilities. Services span across the lifespan as occupational therapists assist young children in tasks related to school such as gripping a pencil and learning to type, as well as the elderly with tasks such as dressing and showering independently. The bottom line goal, regardless of age, is to help people live happier, more independent and productive lives.

With an average salary in the $75K range (ranging closer to 100K in many metro areas), this highly rewarding field is perfect for someone with an equal love of science and people. OT is very data-driven and meticulous record-keeping is a must, but at the end of the day forming positive relationships and helping individuals reach their goals is paramount.

Over 32,000 new occupation therapy positions are expected to open up in the coming decade, a growth rate of 29%. Job analysts see this job as “recession proof” and practitioners in the field report relatively low stress and high rates of job satisfaction making occupational therapy a career worth considering.