A healthcare career isn’t just a job. For many people, it’s a rewarding lifestyle. The healthcare industry is booming, and demand for healthcare professionals is at an all-time high. That’s why a career in the diverse healthcare field is a positive choice associated with high pay, multiple career paths, and a sense of fulfillment.
A career in healthcare doesn’t just refer to doctors and nurses. Job titles also apply to pharmacists, therapists, EMTs, dieticians, exercise trainers, and dozens of other professionals who improve patients’ health and well-being in the broad medical field. Each career has pros and cons that can help you make an informed choice when choosing your specialized healthcare career path.
From respected careers to financial stability, discover the pros and cons, what to expect from a healthcare profession, the education levels needed, and how to choose the right healthcare career.
Is Healthcare a Good Career?
A career in the healthcare industry typically refers to those who engage in some kind of hands-on medical care with patients or clients. Careers can range from surgeons and anesthesiologists to personal trainers, therapists, pharmacists, dieticians, and more.
A 2023 U.S. News study found that a healthcare career is a positive career path for many people who are passionate about helping others and can reap tangible financial and life satisfaction rewards.
As the population continues to expand and age rapidly, healthcare experts trained in health, wellness, and medical technology are in increasing demand. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), careers in healthcare are expected to increase by 13% by 2031. In contrast, the BLS estimates that American jobs will grow by only 5% in the next decade.
These forecasts demonstrate that the healthcare industry is stable, with high demand, reasonable compensation, and plenty of career and financial growth opportunities.
This article explores the field of healthcare professions, discusses the pros and cons, and provides a list of jobs available, median salaries, and required education levels. Learn more about compensation, work-life balance, and the demands and rewards experienced by healthcare professionals. This information can help you decide whether you are suited to a healthcare career.
Pros of Working in Healthcare
Just like any job, there are pros and cons to any career in the healthcare field. That’s why it’s essential to consider what factors are important to you, your natural skills and inclinations, which job features or environments may prove dealbreakers for you, and what level of education you can pursue.
1. High Salary
One of the biggest reasons healthcare is a good career path lies in that healthcare professionals are compensated well for their services. Those seeking a stable, financially secure livelihood should focus on a healthcare career.
Remember that pay varies depending on education or training level and across different specializations.
- High School Diploma or GED - You can expect to earn an average of $29,430 (home healthcare aide) to $37,570 (optician).
- Certifications - A post-secondary certification without a degree can result in a salary that ranges from $30,100 (medical transcriptionists) to $45,240 (medical records or health information specialists).
- Associate’s Degree - Expect to earn anywhere from $61,830 (respiratory therapist, radiologist, or MRI technologist) to $77,60 (registered nurse or dental hygienist) and $82,790 (radiation therapist) with an associate’s degree.
- Bachelor’s Degree - A bachelor’s degree could give you an earning power that ranges from $47,940 (recreational therapist, exercise physiologist, or athletic trainer) to $61,650 (nutritionist or dietician) and $77,600 (registered nurse).
- Master’s Degree - Depending on your field, a master’s degree can net you an average annual income of $79,060 (speech-language pathologists and genetic counselors) to $85,570 (occupational therapists) and up to $123,780 for physician assistants, nurse practitioners, nurse anesthetists, and nurse midwives.
- Ph.D. or Professional Degree - Those with a doctorate or other professional degree can expect to earn $75,000 (chiropractors and audiologists) to $95,620 (physical therapists), $124,300 (optometrists), $128,570 (pharmacists), and $163,220 (dentists).
Depending on their specialty (invasive or non-invasive practice) and location (highest-paid in Florida and New York), a cardiologist can earn anywhere from $300,000 to $620,000 per year.
2. Job Opportunities For Every Education Level
If you have a high school diploma or a GED, you can pursue many healthcare careers. Advantages only increase the more education and training that you obtain.
For example, someone with a high school diploma or GED can work as a home healthcare or personal care aide, a veterinary assistant, an optician, or a pharmacy technician.
Those with certifications but no degree can expect to find work as EMTs, paramedics, phlebotomists, medical records, medical transcriptionists, health information specialists, massage therapists, dental assistants, licensed practical nurses, licensed vocational nurses, and surgical technologists.
If you earn an associate degree, the field widens to include radiology and MRT technologists, dental hygienists, respiratory therapists, medical sonographers, radiation therapists, cardiovascular technicians, cardiovascular technologists, registered nurses, and nuclear medicine technologists.
With a bachelor’s degree, you can become an athletic trainer, a registered nurse, a dietician or nutritionist, a recreational therapist, an exercise physiologist, or a clinical laboratory technician or technologist.
If you want to become a physician’s assistant, an occupational therapist, a speech pathologist, a genetic counselor, or a prosthetist, you will need to obtain a relevant master’s degree.
Career as pharmacy technicians, veterinarians, Physical therapist, pharmacists, chiropractors, podiatrists, optometrists, audiologists, and dentists require a doctorate or other comparable professional degree.
Suppose you’re determined to become a doctor. In that case, you will need to complete a 4-year undergraduate program, such as a bachelor’s degree, then another 4 years in medical school, and finally finish 3-7 years in a residency program to master your chosen specialization. Overall, it takes 10-14 to become a fully licensed M.D.
3. Job Security
Since healthcare jobs are in high demand, a career in healthcare means that you can count on job stability and security in a way many other professions cannot. Healthcare professionals provide critical care across multiple medical fields of expertise, so you can rest assured that your job won’t disappear anytime soon.
4. Emotional Rewards
Even if you’re not actively out on the front lines saving lives, healthcare workers report experiencing a level of emotional reward and peace of mind that is less found in private sector careers.
Whether you’re diagnosing a condition, improving someone’s well-being, ensuring that technology is running smoothly, or helping someone live their best life, a healthcare career allows you to have a direct and often positive impact on many lives.
Many healthcare workers feel emotionally rewarded for helping people, no matter their job role. They also derive strength and positivity from the strong friendships that they forge at work.
Cons of Working in Healthcare
1. Physically Demanding
A job in hands-on patient healthcare can be physically demanding. Those in the nursing profession who work in a hospital setting typically spend long hours on their feet and lifting heavy weights that can cause foot pain and back injuries.
2. Stress, Burnout, and Long Hours
Those in hands-on healthcare often experience high pressure, stress, and burnout. That’s because hospitals are often high-pressure environments where things are life-and-death matters.
In addition, many healthcare professionals, such as nurses, work grueling 12-hour shifts that can take a lot to recover from mentally and physically. These long shifts are usually offset by a flexible schedule or a condensed workweek that can help make up for challenging shift work.
3. Exposure to Viruses
Being a germaphobe is hard if you work in a healthcare environment. The nature of many direct-service healthcare careers requires workers to be in contact with a potentially high percentage of sick people throughout the day.
While it’s expected to wear masks or use disinfectant, healthcare workers risk prolonged daily exposure to many strains of viruses, including COVID-19.
What to Expect from a Career in Healthcare
Suppose you’re looking to start a healthcare career. In that case, there are several reasons to consider this career path, which ranges from salary potential, career growth opportunities, and room for flexible schedules to stimulating and rewarding work environments. In this section, we cover 8 general expectations you can have from pursuing a career in healthcare.
1. Increased Earning Potential
Money isn’t the only reason that people pursue a healthcare career. But it is a significant factor in any job decision. A lucrative paycheck can make dealing with negative moments at work easy. Financial security also reduces stress, helps offset educational costs, and creates a feeling of mental relief that can help offset moments that aren’t so great.
The good news is that a career in healthcare offers a higher median annual wage than for all other occupations.
A May 2020 report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics showed that physicians, registered nurses, dental hygienists, and other technical healthcare jobs earned an average of $69,870. In contrast, the median annual salary for all other jobs comes out to $41,950 per year.
While potential salaries can vary across the healthcare career spectrum, with some job titles earning significantly more than others, skilled healthcare professionals have a vast potential to take home a solid paycheck.
2. Plenty of Job Opportunities
Another positive thing to expect from a healthcare career involves the high demand for skilled healthcare workers. All the high salaries in the world wouldn’t mean much if the job market for these positions proved scarce. The good news is that the healthcare industry is exploding, meaning that more skilled professionals are needed.
A whole generation of Baby Boomers are aging, and with this comes an increased need for medical care. According to the BLS, the healthcare industry is set to add about 2.4 million new positions between 2019 and 2029.
If you’re considering a healthcare career, here is a list of lucrative healthcare jobs that are projected to experience significant employment growth in the next few years:
- Physical therapy aides and assistants (29%)
- Medical assistants (19%)
- Surgical technologists (7%)
- Laboratory technicians and technologists (7%)
3. Room for Flexible Work Schedules
Most people are juggling extra responsibilities in addition to their regular careers. A healthcare career may be an excellent option if you’re one of those people who need or prefer a flexible schedule.
Since patients require medical care around the clock, many healthcare jobs enable workers to work flexible shifts. There are many opportunities to work nights, second shifts, shorter workweeks, or even remote positions. Remember that in-person responsibilities may not qualify you for remote work, but careers in healthcare administration and other online fields may allow this scheduling flexibility.
For example, registered nurses or RNs are famous for having unique schedules that include 3-day workweeks. Other healthcare jobs with adaptable programs include radiologists, MRI technologists, home healthcare aides, and pharmacy technicians.
While any healthcare job can have drawbacks, since you might get called in on holidays or other inconvenient occasions, working a flexible and condensed schedule has benefits.
4. It’s a Respectable Career
While we might not like to admit it, not everybody has a job that fills them with positivity and pride. Even though healthcare workers often have complex, challenging, or exhausting days, their work is directed towards helping improve others’ health, which results in a positive goal.
A healthcare career is also a highly respected profession. For example, a global 2021 YouGov survey discovered that doctors, nurses, and senior healthcare providers had positive net ratings from the general population. That’s because healthcare workers help people, and it’s recognized as an essential and valuable career path. Whether you’re a nurse or a health services manager, there’s room for growth in a highly respectable industry.
Forging a healthcare career has its challenging and frustrating times, but knowing you’re helping improve people’s lives can offset the not-to-great times.
5. A Healthcare Education Isn’t One-Size-Fits-All
Achieving a career in healthcare doesn’t always take 8 years of schooling. For example, some healthcare jobs, such as medical assistants or pharmacy technicians, can become qualified in less time than obtaining an associate degree.
Many other roles, from physical therapist assistants to surgical technologists, medical laboratory technicians, and radiologic technologists, can position themselves for career success with just an associate degree. Other healthcare career paths, such as nursing, can be obtained with a Practical Nursing Diploma or a graduate degree.
No matter what kind of healthcare career you want to pursue, you can find a qualified healthcare education program that is career-focused to position you for success.
Choosing the Right Healthcare Career
A healthcare career can have its positive and negative aspects. While being a healthcare worker is typically lucrative, it also requires hard work and commitment. Before you dedicate years to studying or training for a healthcare profession, it’s important to consider several factors that can help you make the right career choice.
These 5 tips can help you figure out your healthcare career path and boost your success to help you land that dream job.
1. Clarify Why You Want to Work in Healthcare
Money isn’t everything. Diving into a healthcare career can be expensive and exhausting. Some jobs may require multiple years of education, while others may be mentally or physically draining. It’s also a rewarding, satisfying, and lucrative career path.
Before you start, ask yourself why you’re interested in pursuing a career in healthcare. Are you passionate about helping people and want to make a difference to improve people’s lives? Are you driven by financial success or the prestige of a medical career? Many people are attracted to the field for a combination of reasons.
It’s important to get honest with yourself about your reasons for pursuing a career in healthcare, understand why you’ll keep going if it gets tough, and examine what you hope to gain from a healthcare job. This will help you determine if a medical career is the right one for you.
2. Analyze Your Goals, Strengths, and Weaknesses
According to Beth Sanford, a professor of Nursing at Rasmussen University, those looking to pursue a healthcare career should conduct a personal analysis to assess their strengths and weaknesses, career growth opportunities, and any obstacles to success.
These questions include:
- What are my natural strengths? What are my weak areas?
If you’re a night owl who has a lot of discipline and thrives on learning, this can indicate you will have more power to push through years of study to achieve your healthcare career goals. If you are squeamish about blood, you may not be cut out to be a surgeon. A nurse or pediatrician may be a good career fit if you are passionate about everyday patient care in a hospital or private practice setting.
If you love helping people hone their best bodies or are interested in the human brain and why people act the way they do, then a career in physical therapy, fitness, or psychiatry may be for you.
- What healthcare area best suits my natural strengths and abilities?
Do you prefer direct patient care, or would you like to work in healthcare administration? Are you interested in working in the community or at an in-patient organization?
- What are my long-term goals? Does this healthcare career path offer me the growth opportunities needed to reach my goal?
Some education directions provide stepping-stones to other opportunities, while others can land you a solid job in a specialized healthcare profession. Decide if you want to reach and keep working in one area or at one level or if you’re going to keep climbing.
- Do you need a good work-life balance? Day-time shifts? Do you have consistent childcare?
If you’re a parent considering a healthcare career, there are several additional logistics to consider.
Many parents want to be around at some point during the day for their child, so work hours that conflict with a child’s schedule may not feel optimal. If you want a better work-life balance rather than demanding or unpredictable schedules, pursuing a career path that will give you the work-life balance you need is essential.
It’s also essential to ensure that you have a reliable childcare system in place. This will give you peace of mind and prevent you from scrambling last minute to arrange childcare or missing work before you don’t have childcare coverage.
Planning and considering what you and your child need can help you determine the best healthcare career path.
Who Should Pursue a Career in Healthcare?
Anyone interested in helping people and improving patients’ lives and in education, mathematics, and sciences may find that pursuing a healthcare career has many rewards.
Healthcare professionals must be committed to a robust code of ethics, professionalism, and a commitment to their patients and practice soft skills.
People who are resilient and have a lifelong interest in learning also often have many personal attributes required to succeed in a healthcare career.
Choosing a career in healthcare is a very personal decision. While every career path has pros and cons, a healthcare career is generally considered a positive choice.
The first step is considering your natural skills, inclinations, and interests. Do your research, attend career fairs, shadow a healthcare worker in your chosen field, and ask lots of questions to learn more about specific roles you are interested in pursuing.
The more you know yourself and your chosen specialization, the better equipped you will be to decide if healthcare is a good fit and career path for you.