The Best Medical Careers for 2020

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Healthcare is one of the largest, fastest-growing industries in the country.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment in healthcare is projected to grow 14% between 2018 and 2028, more than any other occupational group. Healthcare professionals find work in hospitals, doctor and dentist offices, outpatient care facilities, and private practices.

Different medical fields require different levels of education. While physicians need approximately 6-8 years of schooling, many top health careers offer entry-level opportunities to graduates with associate, bachelor's, or master's degrees.

For a detailed look at these education requirements, take a look at the following list of medical professions. The list is organized by median annual salary, from highest to lowest.

Physicians and Surgeons

Physicians and surgeons diagnose and treat patient injuries and illnesses. Typical tasks include evaluating patient history, reviewing test results, designing treatment plans, and answering patient questions. These professionals must have excellent communication skills, an attention to detail, and compassion.

Physicians and surgeons face some of the most demanding education requirements of any medical profession. Minimum requirements include a bachelor's degree, a four-year medical school degree, and 3-7 years in internship or residency programs.

Median Annual Salary

$208,000

Projected Growth Rate

7%

Dentists

Dentists diagnose and treat problems with the teeth, gums, and mouth. Typical tasks include advising patients on preventive care, such as flossing and diet, repairing damaged teeth, and examining X-rays in order to diagnose problems. Dentists must be detail-oriented, dexterous, and able to solve problems.

Dentists typically need a bachelor's degree and either a DDS or DMD degree from a dental school program accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation. They also need state licensure.

Median Annual Salary

$159,200

Projected Growth Rate

7%

Pharmacists

Pharmacists dispense prescriptions and advise patients on the proper use of their medications. Typical tasks include verifying physician instructions, counseling patients on medication use, overseeing the work of pharmacy technicians, and providing flu shots and other vaccinations. Pharmacists need effective communication, managerial, and computer skills.

To secure required state licensure, pharmacists must complete a two- or four-year undergraduate degree, a doctor of pharmacy degree, and two examinations. Pharmacists may also need to complete residencies to work in specialized areas like internal medicine.

Median Annual Salary

$128,090

Projected Growth Rate

0%

Podiatrists

Podiatrists diagnose and treat patients with foot, ankle, and lower leg problems. Typical tasks include assessing issues through physical exams and X-rays, performing foot and ankle surgeries, and instructing patients on foot care. Podiatrists must be detail-oriented and compassionate.

Podiatrists must complete at least three years of undergraduate education, an accredited doctor of podiatric medicine program, and a three-year residency which provides medical and surgical experience. Every state required podiatrists to be licensed.

Median Annual Salary

$126,240

Projected Growth Rate

6%

Nurse Anesthetists, Nurse Midwives, and Nurse Practitioners

Advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs), including nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives, and nurse practitioners, provide primary and speciality healthcare services. Typical tasks include performing physical exams, creating patient care plans, performing diagnostic tests, and counseling patients. This profession requires keen communication, critical thinking, and leadership skills.

APRNs must hold a registered nursing license and a master's in their speciality role. Some APRNs also choose to pursue a doctor of nursing practice or Ph.D. State licensure and national certification are required.

Median Annual Salary

$115,800

Projected Growth Rate

26%

Optometrists

Optometrists examine, diagnose, and treat injuries, diseases, and other eye-related disorders. Typical tasks include performing vision tests, prescribing eyeglasses and visual aids, and performing minor surgical procedures to treat eye health issues. Optometrists need excellent decision-making and interpersonal skills.

This medical profession requires students to complete at least three years of postsecondary education before pursuing an accredited doctor of optometry degree. All states require successful completion of the National Board of Examiners in Optometry exam.

Median Annual Salary

$115,250

Projected Growth Rate

10%

Physician Assistants

Physician assistants work on teams with physicians, surgeons, and other healthcare workers. Typical tasks include taking patient medical history, ordering diagnostic tests, prescribing medication, and counseling patients. Physician assistants must work well under pressure, communicate effectively, and be attentive to details.

This career typically requires a master's degree. Many physician assistants have prior experience as registered nurses, EMTs, or paramedics. To earn required licensure, candidates must pass the Physician Assistant National Certifying Examination.

Median Annual Salary

$112,260

Projected Growth Rate

31%

Medical and Health Services Managers

Medical and health services managers, also called healthcare administrators, plan and coordinate medical and health services. Typical tasks include developing goals and objectives, ensuring compliance with laws and regulations, supervising staff, and managing finances. This position requires analytical, leadership, and technical skills.

Healthcare administrators typically need at least a bachelor's degree, but employers commonly prefer master's degrees. Specific education requirements vary by facility and job function.

Median Annual Salary

$100,980

Projected Growth Rate

18%

Veterinarians

Veterinarians care for the health of pets, livestock, and other animals. Typical tasks include assessing animal health and diagnosing problems, vaccinating animals against diseases, and advising owners about animal care and treatment. Veterinarians must be compassionate problem-solvers with strong communication skills.

After completing a bachelor's degree, candidates must earn a doctor of veterinary medicine degree, which typically takes four years. Licensure requirements vary by state, but all professionals must pass the North American Veterinary Licensing Examination.

Median Annual Salary

$95,460

Projected Growth Rate

18%

Physical Therapists

Physical therapists help improve movement and manage pain in patients who need preventative care, rehabilitation, or treatment for chronic conditions. Typical tasks include observing patients to diagnose problems, developing individual care plans, and guiding patients through exercises. This career requires excellent communication skills, physical stamina, and compassion.

Prospective physical therapists must complete a bachelor's degree and a three-year doctor of physical therapy program. Passing the National Physical Therapy Examination leads to licensure. Additional requirements vary by state.

Median Annual Salary

$89,440

Projected Growth Rate

22%

Medical Scientists

Medical scientists conduct research, clinical trials, and investigations to help improve human health. Typical tasks include designing and conducting studies, analyzing medical samples, testing medical devices, and standardizing drugs for mass manufacturing. Medical scientists must be critical thinkers with excellent communication and analytical skills.

This medical profession requires many years of study. Candidates often hold a medical degree and/or a Ph.D. in biology. Licensure is required for those who practice medicine through clinical trials, drug administration, or gene therapy.

Median Annual Salary

$88,790

Projected Growth Rate

8%

Radiation Therapists

Radiation therapists administer radiation treatments to patients with cancer and other diseases. Typical tasks include explaining treatments to patients, protecting oneself and others from improper radiation exposure, and calibrating and operating machinery. Radiation therapists must have excellent interpersonal and technical skills to work with both patients and equipment.

Employers typically hire candidates with an associate or bachelor's degree in radiation therapy. Most states require licensure or certification from the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists.

Median Annual Salary

$85,560

Projected Growth Rate

9%

Occupational Therapists

Occupational therapists help treat injured, ill, and disabled patients through the therapeutic use of everyday activities. Typical tasks including evaluating patient needs, developing treatment plans and goals, and helping patients perform different tasks. Occupational therapists need patience, adaptability, and excellent communication skills.

Most professionals in this field hold a master's degree in occupational therapy, which requires at least 24 weeks of supervised fieldwork. Occupational therapists must pass an examination administered by the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy.

Median Annual Salary

$84,950

Projected Growth Rate

18%

Genetic Counselors

Genetic counselors help assess risk for inherited conditions like birth defects and genetic disorders. Typical tasks include interviewing patients to obtain comprehensive family medical history, discussing testing options, and writing detailed consultation reports. Compassion, communication, and critical thinking skills are vital to this medical profession.

Genetic counselors typically hold a master's degree in genetics or genetic counseling. Optional certification is available through the American Board of Genetic Counseling. Approximately half of all U.S. states have additional licensure requirements.

Median Annual Salary

$81,880

Projected Growth Rate

27%

Speech-Language Pathologists

Speech-language pathologists, also called speech therapists, help assess, diagnose, and treat communication and swallowing disorders in children and adults. Typical tasks include evaluating levels of speech difficulty, identifying treatment options, and teaching patients how to improve their voices and fluency. This career requires excellent critical thinking, listening, and analytical skills. Speech therapists typically hold a master's degree. All states require some form of registration or licensure. Specialized certification is available from the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association and other organizations.

Median Annual Salary

$79,120

Projected Growth Rate

27%

Nuclear Medicine Technologists

Nuclear medicine technologists prepare and administer radioactive drugs for imaging or therapeutic purposes. Typical tasks include providing technical support to physicians and other professionals, explaining procedures to patients, and operating imaging equipment. This career requires excellent technical, analytical, and interpersonal skills.

Education requirements typically include an associate or bachelor's degree. Although licensure requirements vary by state, most professionals pursue certification from the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists or the Nuclear Medicine Technology Certification Board.

Median Annual Salary

$77,950

Projected Growth Rate

7%

Audiologists

Audiologists diagnose, manage, and treat patients with hearing, balance, and other ear problems. Typical tasks include examining patients and assessing results, fitting and dispensing hearing aids, and counseling patients and their families on ways to communicate. Audiologists need patience, compassion, and problem-solving skills.

Prospective audiologists need a four-year doctoral degree in audiology. All states require licensure. Optional certification is available through the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association and the American Board of Audiology.

Median Annual Salary

$77,600

Projected Growth Rate

16%

Dental Hygienists

Dental hygienists provide preventative care and examine patients for signs of oral disease. Typical tasks include removing plaque and tartar from teeth, taking dental X-rays, and educating patients about oral hygiene techniques. This job requires manual dexterity, attention to detail, and problem-solving skills.

Dental hygienists typically earn a three-year associate degree accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation. All states require dental hygienists to be licensed.

Median Annual Salary

$76,220

Projected Growth Rate

11%

Registered Nurses

One of the nation's most popular healthcare professions, registered nurses provide and coordinate patient care in hospitals, physician's offices, and other healthcare facilities. Typical tasks include administering medication, collaborating with doctors, and helping to perform diagnostic tests. Registered nurses need physical stamina and excellent communication and critical thinking skills.

Several education paths are available for registered nurses, including diploma, associate, and bachelor's programs. All states require licensure. Candidates must pass the National Council Licensure Examination.

Median Annual Salary

$73,300

Projected Growth Rate

12%

Occupational Health and Safety Specialists and Technicians

Occupational health and safety specialists and technicians inspect workplaces and conduct tests to prevent harm to workers, property, the environment, and the public. Typical tasks include evaluating workplace health and safety programs, ensuring compliance with government standards, and investigating incidents. This job requires physical stamina, advanced technology skills, and problem-solving ability.

These professionals typically need a bachelor's degree, though a master's is required for some positions. Voluntary certification is available and often encouraged by employers

Median Annual Salary

$70,480

Projected Growth Rate

6%

Chiropractors

Chiropractors work with patients experiencing problems with the neuromusculoskeletal system: nevers, bones, muscles, ligaments, and tendons. Typical tasks include assessing patient conditions, providing therapy such as spinal adjustments, and advising patients on health and lifestyle issues. Organizational skills, manual dexterity, and attention to detail benefit professionals in this field.

Chiropractors must have a four-year doctor of chiropractic degree and a state license. Licensure requires passing all four parts of the National Board of Chiropractic Examiners exam.

Median Annual Salary

$70,340

Projected Growth Rate

7%

Diagnostic Medical Sonographers and Cardiovascular Technologists

Sonographers and technologists, also called diagnostic imaging workers, help physicians assess and diagnose medical conditions through use of special imaging equipment. Typical tasks include operating equipment, reviewing images and test results, and analyzing diagnostic information. Attention to detail, hand-eye coordination, and technical skills are essential for this career.

Sonographers and technologists often earn associate or bachelor's degrees. Employers typically prefer candidates with professional certification from organizations like the American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonographers.

Median Annual Salary

$68,750

Projected Growth Rate

14%

Orthotists and Prosthetists

Orthotists and prosthetists design and create medical support devices like artificial limbs and braces. Typical tasks include evaluating patients to determine their needs, taking measurements and impressions of a patient's body, and providing adjustments and repair to devices. This career requires physical dexterity, attention to detail, and effective communication skills.

This profession requires a master's degree. Graduates must also complete a one-year residency accredited by the National Commission on Orthotic and Prosthetic Education. Some states require licensure or certification.

Median Annual Salary

$68,410

Projected Growth Rate

20%

Radiologic and MRI Technologists

Radiologic technologists and MRI technologists create diagnostic images with X-rays and MRI scans. Typical tasks include adjusting and maintaining equipment, preparing patients for procedures, and working with physicians to evaluate imaging results. Technologists must be detail-oriented and have mathematical and technical skills.

This career typically requires an associate degree. Most states require licensure for radiologic technologists, but few states license MRI technologists. Certification is available from organizations like the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists.

Median Annual Salary

$62,280

Projected Growth Rate

9%

Respiratory Therapists

Respiratory therapists provide care to patients who have trouble breathing due to chronic diseases or emergency situations like drowning, heart attack, or shock. Typical tasks include interviewing and examining patients, performing lung capacity tests, and providing treatment via chest physiotherapy. Compassion and problem-solving skills are essential.

This medical profession requires an associate degree, although many employers prefer candidates with a bachelor's. All states except Alaska require licensure. Professionals can earn credentials through the National Board for Respiratory Care.

Median Annual Salary

$61,330

Projected Growth Rate

21%

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