Best Health Care Careers for Long-Term Growth

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See how the right education could be the first step to a health care career with long-term growth opportunities.

By Lisa Manterfield    

Are you eager to launch a new career in health care? Thinking about going back to school to prepare?

Beware of short-term thinking.

Although it might be tempting to find a fast track into the growing health care field, you should take the time now to research what's right for you, and the education that will help you prepare.

The fact is, not all careers in health care are created equal. Some might promise attractive entry-level salaries, but could leave you staring at a glass ceiling a year or two down the road. Others might require little education to start, but offer nowhere to go as you gain experience.

Take time now to make sure your chosen career has room for you to grow. This could help you get the best return on your educational investment.

If you're ready to prepare for a health care career with long-term growth possibilities, check out these five options. With a little time investment and the right education, you could be well on your way to a long and fruitful health career.

Career #1 - Registered Nurse

Consider nursing if you are searching for a rewarding, health care career with room to grow. Registered nurses are usually responsible for the daily care of patients, including administering medications and treatments.

Starting Out: An associate's degree in nursing (ADN) or a nursing diploma, both of which could take as little as two to three years, could help you prepare for a registered nursing career, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

Click to Find the Right Nursing Program.

Moving Up: Before advancing to a specialist or a supervisor position, most registered nurses start out as staff nurses. To make this move, you generally need experience and good performance as well as a bachelor's degree in nursing (BSN).*

As your career progresses, you may have the opportunity to specialize as an advanced practice nurse or a health care administrator. Both these careers usually require a master's degree in the appropriate field.*

Average Earnings: The average salary for all registered nurses is $67,720. Pay varies by seniority and specialty, with only the most experienced and qualified registered nurses making an average of $95,130. The average salary for a health services administrator is $93,670.*


Career #2 - Pharmacy Technician

Pharmacy technician is another good option to look into if you want a career with the potential for long-term growth. Pharmacy technicians are generally responsible for taking prescription orders, filling medications, conferring with physicians, and verifying patients' insurance.

Starting Out: A pharmacy technician certificate, a diploma, or an associate's degree could help you get started in this career, says the Department.*

Click to Find the Right Pharmacy Technician Program.

Moving Up: If you want to advance to a supervisory or specialty role, having the right education could help, says the Department. And you'll most likely need a bachelor's degree if you're interested in moving into pharmaceutical sales.*

Average Earnings: The average salary for pharmacy technicians is $29,330, with the highest 10 percent of earners averaging $40,710. The average salary for pharmaceutical industry sales representatives is $92,330, but earnings are usually based on commission and can vary.*


Career #3 - Dental Assistant

Look into dental assisting if you want an in-demand career with the potential for advancement down the road. Dental assistants usually help with patient visits, prepare instruments, or maintain patient records.

Starting Out: In this  competitive field, a certificate, a diploma, or an associate's degree in dental assisting usually helps you prepare for this type of career, according to the Department.

Click to Find the Right Dental Assisting Program.

Moving Up: With additional education, dental assistants can prepare to advance to careers in dental hygiene. To take this step, you generally  need to be licensed by the state and should have earned a certificate, an associate's degree, or a bachelor's degree in dental hygiene.*

Average salary: Dental assistants have an average salary of $34,140. The average salary for dental hygienists is $68,680.*


Career #4 - Health Care Administrator

Do you want to pursue a long-term career in management? Health administration could be a great field. Health care administrators oversee the daily running of hospitals and other medical facilities.

Starting Out: When entering the field, you will most likely start as an assistant administrator or an assistant department head in a large hospital, or as a department head of a smaller facility. You usually need a bachelor's degree in health care administration or a related field to prepare for this career, according to the Department.

Click to Find the Right Health Care Administration Program.

Moving Up: In order to advance to a department head or a health services manager, you'll most likely need a master's degree in health care administration or a related field. *

Average Earnings: The average salary for a medical and health services manager is $93,670.* Salaries vary with responsibilities and experience.


Career #5 - Human Resources Assistant

If you're ready to launch a people-oriented career in health care and are prepared to continue your education for job advancement, consider pursuing a human resources career within the health care field. Human resources assistants generally help to organize and maintain a company's employee records, such as personal, benefits, and tax information.

Starting Out: According to the U.S. Department of Labor, some organizations might consider candidates with only a high school diploma, but obtaining a certificate or diploma in human resources can usually introduce you to some valuable skills, such as computing, communication, and office administration.

Click to Find the Right Human Resources Program.

Moving Up: One option for advancement would be to specialize in an area like payroll, benefits, recruitment, or employee training. You most likely need at least a bachelor's degree in human resources to move into a specialist role, which should take as little as four years to complete, according to the Department.

If you hope to advance to a human resources management position, you'll generally need an advanced degree, such as a human resources master's degree.*

Average Earnings: The average salary for HR assistants is $37,900. The average salary for human resources managers is $108,600.*


*All career, education, and average salary information comes from the U.S. Department of Labor's May 2010 data.


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