High-Growth, High-Pay Jobs In The Health Field

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Want to prep for an in-demand career that will return your investment? Consider these booming health care careers.

By Terence Loose

Are you thinking of going back to school to work toward a new career, but don't know exactly which careers will pay you back in the long run? Choose the wrong career, and you may have a hard time earning sufficient returns on the money and time you invested in a degree. But how do you find a career that will give you the best shot at making the most of your educational investment?

Well, a good place to start might be the health care industry. Why? Because according to the U.S. Department of Labor, the health care and social assistance industry is going to be the greatest driver of jobs in the near future - by far. Specifically, the Department of Labor says these fields are expected to grow by 33 percent, or 5.7 million new jobs from 2010 to 2020, providing millions more jobs than any other industry.

Of course, there's still the matter of which health care career to pursue. So we did a little digging and came up with six health care careers that offer pay above the national median (which, by the way, is $45,790, according to the Department's figures for 2012) and above average growth expectations (the average is 14 percent).

So read on for six health careers that could be worth investing in.

Payback Career #1: Registered Nurse

The U.S. Department of Labor publishes a chart titled "Occupations with the Largest Growth," and guess which job tops the list? Registered nurse - with more than 700,000 jobs expected to be added in the field from 2010 to 2020. That's a lot of jobs.

Why It Has a Future: A few things are leading to the increased demand for nurses, says Susan Heathfield, a management consultant and writer of About.com's Guide to Human Resources. "First, the baby boomer generation is living longer and is more focused on health. Second, nursing is a bedside health care occupation, and something that can't be done over the phone or via computer, so the jobs will stay here," she says.

Information from the Department of Labor seems to back-up Heathfield's assessment. Because of technological advances in health care, increased emphasis on preventive care, and an active baby boomer generation, the Department expects a 26 percent growth rate in this occupation from 2010 to 2020.

Click to Find the Right Nursing Program.

ROI Potential*: So just what do nurses make? According to the Department, the median annual income is $65,470, with the lowest paid 10 percent making $45,040, and the highest paid 10 percent pulling in $94,720. Not a bad ROI for helping people stay healthy.

Education Needed: The Department says there are three ways to pursue a career as a registered nurse: Earn an associate's degree in nursing (ADN), a bachelor's degree in nursing (BSN), or a diploma from an approved nursing program. You will also need to be licensed.

Payback Career #2: Dental Hygienist

If you've ever thought that dentistry might be a good fit for your career ambitions, but aren't sure you want to spend the time - and money - to pursue the leading role of dentist, you might be interested in a supporting role in the same industry. Dental hygienists keep your smile bright and disease-free. And the job itself has a bright future.

Why It Has a Future: Heathfield says that dentists are relying on dental hygienists more and more because dentists are becoming busier thanks to that baby boomer generation. And as a result, "Because dentists are using them for more and more tasks, I see dental hygienist as a huge growth field," she says.

And again, the U.S. Department of Labor agrees. As research continues to find links between oral and general health, the demand for preventative dental services will increase. And the Department of Labor's projections for job growth? For dental hygienists, a whopping 38 percent growth is expected from 2010 to 2020. Translation: 68,500 jobs.

Click to Find the Right Dental Hygiene Program.

ROI Potential*: Keeping people smiling pays a median annual income of $70,210, with the lowest 10 percent of dental hygienists earning $46,540 and the highest 10 percent averaging at $96,280.

Education Needed: A minimum of an associate's degree or certificate in dental hygiene is usually required by most private dentists' offices, according to the Department of Labor. All states also require hygienists to have a license.

Payback Career #3: Dietitian

Do you read every label and count every calorie? Perhaps you enjoy sharing your health knowledge with friends and family? Well, in addition to paying you back with a svelte physique and high energy level, pursuing a career as a dietitian could also return that educational investment sooner than later.

Why It Has a Future: "I think most people put much more of an emphasis on diet as part of their health care than ever before," says Heathfield. She adds that doctors and hospitals also now respect diet more as part of a patient's overall recovery and preventative health care. "So I see this profession as being more in demand in the future," she says.

The U.S. Department of Labor says that there indeed has been an increased emphasis on the role of food in promoting health and wellness. For that reason, they see a very healthy 20 percent increase - or 12,700 new dietitian job opportunities, between 2010 and 2020. That's not bad considering there were only 64,000 dietitians in 2010.

Click to Find the Right Dietitian Program.

ROI Potential*: What's that saying about healthy, wealthy, and wise? According to the Department of Labor, dietitians earn an annual median salary of $55,240, with the lowest 10 percent earning $34,500, and the top 10 percent making $77,590.

Education Needed: The Department says that most dietitians have earned a bachelor's degree in dietetics, food service systems management, foods and nutrition, or a related field. They also usually go through many hours of supervised training and most states require dietitians to be licensed.

Payback Career #4: Diagnostic Medical Sonographer

Two reasons this career is a decent bet for the future: technology and health care. Yep, this occupation marries them both: According to the U.S. Department of Labor, diagnostic medical sonographers use sophisticated imaging equipment that sends sound waves into a patient's body. Then they read the echoes to assess and diagnose medical conditions - or to tell if it's a boy or a girl! Sound like the future calling?

Why It Has a Future: "Technology and equipment in hospitals is becoming so advanced and prevalent, so the people who can operate them are going to be more and more in demand," says Heathfield. She adds that preventative care is becoming more prevalent and seen as cost-saving to managed care, and so tests such as those performed by diagnostic medical sonographers are becoming more valued.

The Department of Labor makes the point that the use of sonography (commonly known as sonograms, ultrasounds, and echocardiograms) will become more desirable to patients than invasive techniques and ones that result in radiation. For this and other reasons, the Department sees the profession of diagnostic medical sonographer growing by 44 percent from 2010 to 2020 - or 23,400 new jobs. That's the kind of growth we like.

Click to Find the Right Diagnostic Medical Sonography Program.

ROI Potential*: Apparently, firing sound waves into people pays. Specifically, the Department says diagnostic medical sonographers make an annual median salary of $65,860, with the lowest paid 10 percent making $44,990 and the highest 10 percent making $91,070.

Education Needed: Formal education, such as a postsecondary certificate or associate's degree, is needed for diagnostic medical sonographer positions. According to the Department, a lot of employers require certification and prefer that diagnostic medical sonographers have a certificate or degree from an accredited hospital program or institute.

Payback Career #5: Physical Therapy Assistant

Imagine the satisfaction you'd get from helping an accident victim walk again, or even just relieving a patient's pain through massage. If that sounds good, there's also good news for future physical therapy assistants: the occupation is expected to be in high demand and the pay isn't bad either.

Why It Has a Future: "I think this is an occupation that's going to be very big in the next decade or so thanks to our aging population needing more health care and, again, because it's a job that's impossible to outsource," says Heathfield. "The baby boomers are also leading more active lives and not only sustain injuries, but want to continue to be active, so they'll need physical therapy and other rehabilitation in the future."

If Heathfield sounds high on this occupation, try reading what the U.S. Department of Labor has to say: it projects a whopping 46 percent increase in physical therapy assistant opportunities between 2010 and 2020. In other words, 51,100 new jobs.

Click to Find the Right Physical Therapy Program.

ROI Potential*: It's nice to see important work get rewarded. According to the Department of Labor, the median annual wage for physical therapist assistants is $52,160. The lowest 10 percent make a respectable $32,420 and the top 10 percent make $72,720.

Education Needed: In most states, an associate's degree from an accredited physical therapy program is required, says the Department. Most states also require physical therapy assistants to be licensed, it adds.

Payback Career #6: Medical and Health Services Manager

There's a reason they call it "managed health care." Yes, the medical field is about curing and preventing illness, but anyone who's visited a doctor's office or filled out a hospital admittance form knows that treating illness takes a healthy amount of management. Hence, medical and health services managers might do everything from run doctors' practices to manage whole departments in health care facilities, says the U.S. Department of Labor.

Why It Has a Future: "Whatever you think of Obamacare, there's one thing for certain: More and more dollars are going into health care in the future. And that means administrative [management] jobs will be on the increase and probably pay pretty well," says Heathfield.

That certainly coincides with the Department of Labor's take on this profession. They project that the job opportunities for medical and health care services managers will increase by 22 percent from 2010 to 2020. That's about 68,000 new jobs being added.

Click to Find the Right Health Care Administration Program.

ROI Potential*: You'll probably be pleased with the ROI here too. The Department says that the median annual pay for medical and health services managers is $88,580. The bottom 10 percent make $53,940 and the top 10 percent earn $150,560.

Education Needed: The Department says that hopeful medical and health services managers typically have a bachelor's degree in health administration. Also common, it adds, are master's degrees in health services, public administration, long-term care administration, public health, or business administration.

*All salary information from the U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Employment and Wages data, May 2012.

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