Specialty Medical Careers

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The thriving healthcare field offers some of the nation's best career opportunities. However, not everyone wants to be a doctor or a nurse. There are a variety of careers in the medical field which require specialized training in order to do a very specific job.

This section provides pertinent, reliable information about an array of specialty medical careers. We provide detailed career information such as employment outlook, salary, training, education and much more. We help you find the healthcare career or medical career right for you.

After you read through this page on Specialty Medical Careers keep browsing our website's extensive career guide for more information on job options, education requirements and salaries.

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Audiologists

Education and Certifications Audiologists Need

Individuals seeking an audiologist career must obtain a Doctorate of Audiology (Au.D.), preferably from a college or university program accredited by the Council on Academic Accreditation, before beginning work in the audiology field.

An audiologist needs a license to practice in any state, although the requirements for licensure vary by state.

Audiologist certification is not required, although it's highly recommended, audiologist certification demonstrates commitment to the field and a desire to learn more about audiology. Some employers require certification.

Audiologists may earn a Certificate of Clinical Competence in Audiology (CCC-A) through the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. The American Board of Audiology provides certification.

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What They Do

To individuals with hearing and balance problems, an audiologist can change their lives for the better. An audiologist career includes examining individuals experiencing balance, hearing, or other ear related issues, diagnosing the problem, and dispensing the appropriate treatment. Treatment can be as easy as cleaning out earwax, or as complicated as fitting and programming the patient with cochlear implants.

Audiologists do a great deal for the hearing impaired, whether it's fitting them for hearing aids or counseling them on lip reading, sign language, and other ways communication forms. Audiologist careers include using audiometers, computers, and other devices, to test patients' hearing and balance and to determine the amount of damage, if any.

An audiologist career includes keeping records of their patients' personal information and treatment plans and altering the treatment plan as needed. Prior to developing a treatment plan, audiologists must also assess the impact of hearing loss on the patient psychologically.

Audiologists sometimes specialize in children, elderly, or designing products to help protect workers' hearing while on the job.

Essential Career Information

2017 Median Pay $75,920
2016, Number of Jobs 14,800
Employment Growth Forecast, 2016-2026 21%
Entry-Level Education Requirements Doctoral or Professional Degree
2017, Wage of the Highest 10% $111,150
2017, Wage of the Lowest 10% $51,300

 

Dental Assistants

Education and Certifications Dental Assistants Need

The educational requirements for dental assistants vary by state. Some states require dental assistants to graduate from an accredited program and perhaps pass a state exam. The typical dentist assistant program such as a certificate in Dental Assisting or a Diploma in Dental Assisting program take one year to complete, however some schools offer a two-year Dental Assistant Associate degree program.

The Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA) has approved more than 285 dental-assisting training programs.

Some states do not require formal education; people seeking a dental assistant career may learn their duties through on-the-job training.

Some states require certification for dental assistants, although the certification requirements vary by state. To become certified dental assistants must pass the Certified Dental Assistant (CDA) exam, provided by the Dental Assisting National Board (DANB).

Some states require dental assistants to become licensed or register with DANB to complete specific tasks, such as coronal polishing, in a dentist's office.

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What They Do

Dental Assistants are the smiling public face of a dental practice, as they're usually the first professional a patient interacts with when visiting the dentist. A dental assistant's tasks vary depending on who they work for and in what state.

A dental assistant career includes greeting patients, speaking with them about proper dental hygiene, and help preparing them for dental treatments and procedures. A dental assistant has all necessary tools sterilized and laid out for the dentist when they arrive to work on a patient.

Dental assistants typically remain nearby throughout a dental procedure or treatment, handing the dentist tools as needed and keeping patients' mouth dry. A dental assistant career may also include processing x-rays and performing lab work with direction from a dentist.

Depending on the states, dental assistants may also conduct sealant application, fluoride application, coronal polishing, or apply topical anesthetics.

Dental assistants perform some administrative work, keeping records of dental treatment, scheduling patient appointments, and working with patients on payment and billing.

Essential Career Information

2017 Median Pay $37,630
2016, Number of Jobs 332,000
Employment Growth Forecast, 2016-2026 19%
Entry-Level Education Requirements Postsecondary nondegree award
2017, Wage of the Highest 10% $53,130
2017, Wage of the Lowest 10% $26,170

Dental Hygienists

Education and Certifications Dental Hygienists Need

In most cases, people seeking a dental hygienist career must obtain an Associate of Dental Hygiene degree. A dental Hygiene Certificate, a Bachelor of Dental Hygiene, and a Master of Dental Hygiene also exist, but are less common for dental hygienists.

Private dental offices typically require a dental hygienist to have an associate degree or certificate in dental hygiene. Individuals interested in research, teaching, or clinical practice in public or school health programs typically need a bachelor's or master's degree.

Dental hygienists must have a license in every state, although the requirements for licensure vary by state.

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What They Do

Dental hygienists are those friendly individuals who talk to you – usually about dental hygiene – while you can't talk because they are busy cleaning your teeth. A dental hygienist career includes removing tartar, stains, and plaque with small hand and powered tools, taking and develop x-rays, and applying any needed sealants and fluorides to the patient's teeth prior to the dentist seeing the patient. A dental hygienist career also involves reviewing patient care and treatment plans.

Dental hygienists are a resource for patients on overall dental hygiene and oral care, such as proper brushing and flossing techniques and advice on picking out the best toothbrush.

A dental hygienist career includes discussing the link between nutrition and dental hygiene with patients. A dental hygienist's main goal is preventative care, keeping the patients' teeth as healthy as possible for as long as possible.

The tasks allotted to a dental hygienists varies by state. Some states allow dental hygienists to do things such as placing and carving temporary fillings and periodontal dressings.

Essential Career Information

2017 Median Pay $74,070
2016, Number of Jobs 207,900
Employment Growth Forecast, 2016-2026 20%
Entry-Level Education Requirements Associate Degree
2017, Wage of the Highest 10% $101,330
2017, Wage of the Lowest 10% $51,180

 

Dental Laboratory Technicians

Education and Certifications Dental Laboratory Technicians Need

A dental laboratory tech career requires a high school diploma and on-the-job training.

Formal education programs for dental laboratory technicians are also available at vocational schools, community colleges, and some universities.

Dental laboratory technicians can obtain certification through the National Board for Certification in Dental Laboratory Technology in six different specialty areas: Orthodontic appliances, crown and bridges, complete dentures, partial dentures, implants, and ceramics. Dental laboratory technicians may also earn a Certificate of Competency through the National Board for Certification in Dental Laboratory Technology.

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What They Do

Although getting crowns, bridges, and dentures is not very fun, there is one person beyond the dentist you must thank for making the process go smoothly – the dental laboratory technician. Dental laboratory technicians actually create the crown, bridge, or dentures from the molds dentists make.

Although dental laboratory technicians typically have no patient interaction, they work very closely with the dentist. Following specific directions from the dentist, a dental lab tech must mix plaster and pastes to fill molds or impressions, cover and allow them to set and test the result with an apparatus that mimics the patient's bite.

A dentist laboratory technician career sometimes includes making slight adjustments to new crowns, bridges, or dentures.

In addition to working on new crowns, bridges, or dentures, dental laboratory technicians fix broken or cracked dental appliances.

A dental laboratory technician career includes working with a variety of small hand tools and materials such as wax, plastic, and porcelain. A dental laboratory career also includes occasionally using computer programs.

Dental laboratory technicians may specialize in the following: orthodontic appliances, crowns and bridges, complete dentures, partial dentures, implants, and ceramics.

Career Advancement Opportunities

A dental laboratory tech may advance in a large laboratory to a supervisory role and begin training new technicians. Some dental laboratory technicians advance to owning their own laboratory.

Essential Career Information

2017 Median Pay $35,250
2016, Number of Jobs 2,200
Employment Growth Forecast, 2016-2026 13%
Entry-Level Education Requirements High School Diploma or Equivalent
2017, Wage of the Highest 10% $59,890
2017, Wage of the Lowest 10% $22,540

 

Dentists

Education and Certifications Dentists Need

Dentists must graduate from an accredited dental school and obtain a state license prior to practicing. Individuals applying to dental school must already have a bachelor's degree, typically a science degree. A science degree, such as a Bachelor of Biology, provides an advantage when applying for dental school, although technically no specific bachelor degree is required for admittance.

Students planning on applying to dental school after graduation need to take the Dental Acceptance Test (DAT) their junior year of college. The results of the DAT combined with grade point average and recommendations affect students' likelihood of a dental school accepting them.

Dental school always involves students working with actual patients under the supervision of a licensed dentist. All of the nine dental specialties require one to two years of additional training before practicing the specialty. Dentists intending to teach or research full-time spend another two to five years in advanced dental training.

Every state requires dentists to obtain a license prior to practice, although specific state requirements for licensure vary. Additionally, dentists who practice one of the nine specialties must also have a license for their specialty.

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What They Do

Dentists provide patients with health and the confidence only a beautiful white smile can produce. Dentists typically see their patience once or twice a year for general check-ups, scheduling additional services for treating problems with teeth, gums, or other parts of the mouth as needed.

Some of the most common services provided by dentists include: removing decay from teeth, filling cavities, repairing cracked or fractured teeth, abstracting teeth, straightening teeth to correct bite issues, placing sealants on teeth, and whitening teeth.

While performing their daily duties, dentists use tools ranging from mouth mirrors, brushes and probes to x-ray machines, laser, drills, scalpels, and digital scanners. Dentists also provide patients with anesthetics prior to painful procedures and write prescriptions for antibiotics and other medications.

A dental career includes making models and measurements for various dental appliances, such as dentures, and explaining to patients how to use and take care of them. A dentist career also includes educating patients on proper diet, flossing, fluoride use, and brushing for optimal oral health.

Private practice dentists oversee administrative tasks and a staff of dental hygienists, dental assistants, dental laboratory technicians, and receptionists.

Although most dentists are general practitioners, there are areas dentists can specialize in such as: periodontists, dental public health specialists, oral and maxillofacial surgeons, endodontists, oral and maxillofacial radiologists, orthodontists, oral pathologists, pediatric dentists, or prosthodontists.

Essential Career Information

2017 Median Pay $158,120
2016, Number of Jobs 153,500
Employment Growth Forecast, 2016-2026 19%
Entry-Level Education Requirements Doctoral or Professional Degree
2017, Wage of the Highest 10% $208,000
2017, Wage of the Lowest 10% $70,000

 

Dispensing Opticians

Education and Certifications Dispensing Opticians Need

People seeking a dispensing optician career typically need at least a high school diploma; they learn the specifics of their profession through formal on-the-job training. Some community colleges and technical schools also offer an Associate of Opticianry degree or a one-year certificate in opticianry.

Dispensing opticians need a license in 23 states. Licensure generally requires graduating from an approved program or completing an apprenticeship. In addition to licensure, dispensing opticians need to pass one or more of the following: a state written exam, a state practical exam, or certification exams. Dispensing opticians must take continuing education courses to renew their licenses in most states.

Certification is voluntary for dispensing opticians; they become certified in eyeglass dispensing, in contact lens dispensing, or both. In most states, opticians must pass exams from both the American Board of Opticianry (ABO) and the National Contract Lens Examiners (NCLE) in order to gain certification.

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What They Do

How individuals look in their glasses affects their first impressions on everyone they meet; a dispensing optician plays a major role in which glasses people use. Dispensing opticians help people select the eyeglass frames or type of contacts best suited for their needs and style preferences. They also fit the eyewear according to prescriptions from ophthalmologists and optometrists.

While fitting glasses, dispensing opticians measure customers' eyes, specifically the width or thickness of their corneas.

Dispensing optician careers include creating work orders for ophthalmic laboratory technicians and describing the required type of lenses. When a customer arrives to pick up their new glasses, a dispensing optician makes any last minute adjustments needed for optimal comfort.

A dispensing optician career includes fixing broken eyewear and explaining proper care for glasses and contacts.

Dispensing optician careers also involve performing business maintenance tasks, such as maintaining sales records, organizing customers' prescriptions and ordering inventory.

Essential Career Information

2017 Median Pay $36,250
2016, Number of Jobs 77,600
Employment Growth Forecast, 2016-2026 15%
Entry-Level Education Requirements High School Diploma or Equivalent
2017, Wage of the Highest 10% $24,040
2017, Wage of the Lowest 10% $58,750

 

Ophthalmic Laboratory Technicians

Education and Certifications Ophthalmic Laboratory Technicians Need

An ophthalmic laboratory technician career does not require formal education beyond a high school diploma, as most technicians receive on-the-job training, beginning with very basic skills and gradually learning more technical skills.

Some community colleges and vocational schools provide ophthalmic lab technician certificates. Some of the programs provide an apprenticeship.

Ophthalmic laboratory technicians don't need specific certifications or licenses.

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What They Do

If you need glasses or contact lenses an ophthalmic laboratory technician makes them for you. Ophthalmic laboratory technicians cut lenses according to prescription orders, shape and fit the lenses into frames, and sometimes coat the lenses with tinted dyes or coatings. An ophthalmic laboratory technician career includes polishing and inspecting each pair of finished glasses or contact lenses, assuring they are of the highest quality for the wearer.

Increasingly, ophthalmic laboratory technicians use automated equipment to create lenses; however some technicians still create lenses by hand. Machines may also be used in the polishing the finishing process.

In addition to glasses, ophthalmic laboratory technicians may create lenses for instruments such as telescopes and binoculars.

An ophthalmic laboratory tech employed in a small laboratory may complete the entire process, while an ophthalmic laboratory tech working in a larger laboratory may specialize in one specific step of the lens making process.

Career Advancement Opportunities

Ophthalmic lab techs employed in large laboratories may advance in their career to a supervisory role and train newer ophthalmic laboratory technicians. Some technicians may also advance to owning their own laboratory.

Essential Career Information

2017 Median Pay $35,250
2016, Number of Jobs 82,200
Employment Growth Forecast, 2016-2026 13%
Entry-Level Education Requirements High School Diploma or Equivalent
2017, Wage of the Highest 10% $59,890
2017, Wage of the Lowest 10% $22,540

 

Optometrists

Education and Certifications Optometrists Need

An optometrist career begins with a Doctor of Optometry (OD) degree. People interested in an optometrist career must pass the Optometry Admission Test (OAT) before they can enroll in an OD program.

After completing the four-year OD program, some optometrists also participate in a one-year residency program for advanced clinical training in a specialty.

Optometrists need a license to practice in any state. Obtaining a license for optometry includes graduating from an OD program at an accredited optometry school and completing all sections of the National Boards in Optometry. Some states require an additional exam. In many states optometrists must partake in continuing education classes to maintain their license.

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What They Do

Most people would agree their eyesight is pretty handy, so hopefully they're regularly seeing an optometrist. Optometrists help patients keep their eyes as healthy as possible and quickly diagnose and treat any eye disease, injury or disorder. Optometrist careers also include prescribing eyeglasses and contact lenses.

A routine visit to the optometrists generally involves tests for near or farsightedness, as well as for any eye diseases, such as glaucoma. Some patients see optometrists for specific issues, such as vision therapy, low-vision rehabilitation, or pre- and postoperative care regarding eye surgery. An optometrist career also includes speaking with patients about general eye care and how to properly clean and store eyeglasses or contact lenses.

Optometrists may work in a group practice with other optometrists or doctors, teach or do research at optometry colleges, or work as consultants in the eye care industry. If an optometrist owns their own business, they may also spend a portion of their time performing general business activities such as hiring employees and ordering supplies.

Optometrists may specialize in family practice, primary eye care, pediatric optometry, geriatric optometry, vision therapy and rehabilitation, cornea and contact lenses, refractive and ocular surgery, low vision rehabilitation, ocular disease, or community health optometry.

Essential Career Information

2017 Median Pay $110,300
2016, Number of Jobs 40,200
Employment Growth Forecast, 2016-2026 18%
Entry-Level Education Requirements Doctoral or Professional Degree
2017, Wage of the Highest 10% $190,090
2017, Wage of the Lowest 10% $53,740

 

Orthotists and Prosthetists

Education and Certifications Orthotists and Prosthetists Need

An orthotist career or prosthetist career begins with a Master of Orthotics and Prosthetics degree. Typically, master's programs include clinical time to let students work under the direction of a professional orthotist and prosthetist.

A bachelor degree in any field qualifies a candidate to apply for a Master of Orthotics and Prosthetics program if the candidate meets the math and science prerequisites.

Orthotist and prosthetist students must also complete a one-year residency in their specialty; if they choose to specialize in both orthotics and prosthetics, they must complete a one-year residency in each specialization.

After obtaining their master's and completing their residency, orthotists and prosthetists may take the certification exam administered by the American Board for Certification in Orthotics, Prosthetics, and Pedorthics.

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What They Do

Orthotists and prosthetists help give individuals with missing limbs, or with other medical limitations, opportunities for more and easier movement via artificial limbs, braces, and other medical or surgical devices.

Orthotist careers and prosthetist careers include interviewing patients, determining their needs, and designing orthopedic and prosthetic devices around physicians' prescriptions.

The process orthotists and prosthetists undergo when creating a new orthotic or prosthetic device involves measuring the patient's body, creating a mold of the body part to be fitted with a brace or artificial limb, then fit, test, and make any necessary adjustments to the device.

Sometimes orthotists and prosthetists have medical appliance technicians make their orthotic or prosthetic devices under their supervision.

An orthotist career and a prosthetist career involve teaching patients how to use and best maintain their brace or artificial limb. If a device breaks, an orthotist or prosthetist fixes it.

Orthotists and prosthetists may work in both orthotics and prosthetics, or they may specialize in just one. Orthotists specifically work with medical supportive devices, while prosthetists specifically work with prostheses.

Essential Career Information

2017 Median Pay $66,240
2016, Number of Jobs 7,800
Employment Growth Forecast, 2016-2026 22%
Entry-Level Education Requirements Master’s Degree
2017, Wage of the Highest 10% $104,900
2017, Wage of the Lowest 10% $36,050

 

Pharmacists

Education and Certifications Pharmacists Need

A pharmacist career begins with a Doctorate in Pharmacy degree. In order to get into most Doctor of Pharmacy programs, an individual must have at least two to three years of undergraduate study or a bachelor's degree, and usually also pass the Pharmacy College Admission Test (PCAT).

Pharmacists planning to own their own store sometimes opt to obtain a Masters in Business Administration (MBA) degree or a Masters of Public Health degree.

Pharmacists desiring an advanced pharmacy position, such as a clinical pharmacy or research job, must complete an additional one to two-year residency after graduating from a Doctor of Pharmacy program.

In every state pharmacists need a license prior to practicing. Licensure involves passing two exams; one testing pharmacy skills and knowledge, and one testing pharmacy law in the specific state the pharmacist chooses to practice in.

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What They Do

Pharmacists play a major role in helping people get healthy or remain healthy. Pharmacists have the immensely important responsibility of assuring doctor ordered medication is correctly prepared, distributed, and instructed how to use to patients. Pharmacist careers include supervising pharmacy technicians and pharmacist interns.

Pharmacists must not only assure medication is correctly made according to a doctor's order, but they must also check its ingredients against any other medications a patient uses to assure no dangerous or unhealthy interactions between medications can occur.

A pharmacist career includes frequently speaking directly with clients, instructing them how to properly take medication, warning of possible normal side effects, and offering general health advice.

Pharmacists must also regularly work with insurance companies and fill out insurance forms.

If a pharmacist owns their own store, or manages a chain pharmacy, they spend more time performing business tasks. Pharmacists working in universities or for pharmaceutical manufacturers conduct research and test new medications.

In addition to their varied daily duties, pharmacists participate in continuing education courses in order to keep up with the ever-evolving pharmacological advances.

Pharmacists generally work either in retail or as one of the following specializations: clinical pharmacists, consultant pharmacists, or as a college professor.

Essential Career Information

2017 Median Pay $124,170
2016, Number of Jobs 312,500
Employment Growth Forecast, 2016-2026 6%
Entry-Level Education Requirements Doctoral or Professional Degree
2017, Wage of the Highest 10% $159,410
2017, Wage of the Lowest 10% $87,420

 

Pharmacy Technicians

Education and Certifications Pharmacy Technicians Need

A pharmacy technician career typically requires a minimum of a high school diploma or equivalent, although some also attend postsecondary education such as a one-year certificate pharmacy technology program. Pharmacy technicians learn much of their job through on-the-job training.

Most states have regulations for pharmacy technicians, although the regulations vary between states; most states require all or some of the following: high school diploma or equivalent, a criminal background check, graduation from a formal training program, passing an exam, paying fees, and taking continuing education courses.

Even in states not requiring certification for pharmacy technicians, certification is highly recommended, as it provides an advantage when job seeking. The Pharmacy Technician Certification Board (PTCB) and the National Healthcareer Association (NHA) provides certification for pharmacy technicians.

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What They Do

Pharmacy technicians are a pharmacist's right-hand man, as they work directly with customers and help dispense prescription medication.

Pharmacy technicians typically work in retail pharmacies or in hospitals. A pharmacy technician career includes speaking to customers and to health professionals to obtain the necessary information for filling a prescription. They count tablets, measure medications, compound or mix medications, and package and label prescriptions. A pharmacist reviews all medications a pharmacy technician prepares.

A pharmacy technician working in a hospital prepares a larger variety of medications as well as makes rounds within a hospital distributing medications.

A pharmacy technician career also includes performing general pharmacy office duties, such as accepting payments, working with insurance claims, answering phones, and speaking with customers.

Essential Career Information

2017 Median Pay $31,750
2016, Number of Jobs 402,500
Employment Growth Forecast, 2016-2026 12%
Entry-Level Education Requirements High School Diploma or Equivalent
2017, Wage of the Highest 10% $46,980
2017, Wage of the Lowest 10% $22,000

Podiatrists

Education and Certifications Podiatrists Need

Admission into a school of podiatry and attaining a Doctor of Podiatric Degree (DPM) requires completing an undergraduate degree and taking the nationwide medical exam called MCAT (Medical College Admissions Test). Once admitted, a student takes similar courses as those with other medical degrees such as anatomy and physiology.

Students in their last two years of school spend a lot of time in clinical rotations to attain experience in areas such as general surgery, pediatrics and sports medicine all under the supervision of trained physicians.

After earning their degree, a podiatrist needs to apply to a residency program that lasts for three years and may also further their training in specific fellowship areas for an additional few years. Podiatrists may also decide to become board certified in surgery, orthopedics and primary care.

Podiatrists also participate in continuing medical education programs and conferences.

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What They Do

A podiatrist career is a demanding profession for people who enjoy helping others, have excellent attention to detail, a good bedside manner and want to study the mechanics and physiology of feet. Podiatrists must have oral comprehension, as well as complex problem solving and scientific skills.

Podiatrists diagnose and treat diseases, injuries and deformities of the feet, ankle and lower leg as well as perform surgery and set fractures.

Podiatrists can work as a pediatric podiatrist, sports podiatrist or an advanced surgical podiatrist as well as other specialty areas.

Podiatrists deal with systemic diseases such as arthritis and manage patients who suffer from foot problems associated with diabetes. They also refer patients to other physicians and specialists if they detect larger medical issues. Podiatrists also prescribe medication, physical therapy and corrective devices to further aid the healing of foot diseases and deformities.

Many foot doctors need business and financial skills as many podiatrists now own their own clinics and medical practices.

Essential Career Information

2017 Median Pay $127,740
2016, Number of Jobs 11,000
Employment Growth Forecast, 2016-2026 10%
Entry-Level Education Requirements Doctoral or Professional Degree
2017, Wage of the Highest 10% $208,000
2017, Wage of the Lowest 10% $50,930

* Salary, number of jobs and employment growth provided by
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