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Careers in Health Care: Information by Specialization

Learn about the education and preparation needed to become a health care professional. Get a quick view of the details about the programs, job duties and licensing requirements to find out if a health care career is for you.

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There are many career opportunities in the health care field. All require secondary education of some kind, ranging from an associate's degree to a Ph.D.

Essential Information

Employment in the health care industry consists of various types of professionals who specialize in a wide range of fields. Several health care vocations need a minimum of an associate's degree and medical training, though some careers require graduate studies.

Careers Physical Therapist Psychologist Radiologic Technologist Registered Nurse (RN)
Required Education Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) Master's, doctoral degree Associate's degree Associate's degree in nursing, bachelor's of science degree in nursing or completion of approved nursing program
Other Requirements License Internship, residency program, license License or certification varies by state Clinical work, license
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)* 34% 19% 9% 16%
Median Annual Salary (2015)* $84,020 $72,580 $56,670 $67,490

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

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Career Options

To work in the health care profession, you need to be compassionate, trustworthy and detail oriented. You also must demonstrate composure in stressful situations. Occupations in the health care field include physical therapist, psychologist, radiologic technologist and registered nurse.

Physical Therapist

Physical therapists assist patients with injuries, disabilities or physically limiting medical issues. They're responsible for examining patients, performing tests, and developing physical therapy treatment and exercise plans. They also assist in preventing future physical conditions that could damage the patient's physical health.

A master's degree from an accredited program is typically required in order to become a physical therapist, though state academic requirements vary. Some schools offer dual-degree programs, allowing students to earn both a Master of Occupational Therapy and a Doctor of Physical Therapy. Additionally, all states require physical therapists to obtain licensure. Getting licensed usually requires passing national and state examinations that test on a variety of topics, such as physical diseases, anatomy and professional statutes.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that the median yearly salary for physical therapists as of May 2015 was $84,020. Industries that offered the highest wages included home health care services and nursing care facilities. Physical therapists working in Nevada, Alaska and Texas earned the highest salaries in the profession in 2015, averaging over $96,970 a year, per BLS data. In addition, the BLS reports a 34% increase in jobs from 2014 to 2024.

Psychologist

Psychologists help patients with behavioral and mental health issues through consultation and pharmaceutical therapies. Health facilities, hospitals, mental health institutions and schools often employ professionals in this discipline. Psychologists can also offer private practice services.

The level of education required for psychologists varies by where they're employed. Typically, psychologists must earn a research Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) or professional Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.) degree to practice. School psychologists could complete a program in school psychology and earn a specialist (Ed.S.) degree, though some states allow master's degree holders to practice in a school setting. Occupational or industrial psychologists usually need a Master of Occupational Therapy degree. Most counseling psychology programs at the graduate level allow students to specialize in a particular area, such as marriage, addiction or educational counseling.

Clinical, school and counseling psychologists earned a median income of $70,580 per year in May 2015, according to BLS salary figures. The job outlook for psychologists in general is expected to increase by 19% for the years 2014 to 2024, according to the BLS.

Radiologic Technologists

Radiologic technologists specialize in assisting physicians with diagnostics through medical imaging. They use several non-invasive and invasive techniques, such as ultrasounds, x-rays, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and computed tomography (CT), to assist in analyzing medical issues. Similar professions include radiologic technicians and radiographers, these professionals must observe safety practices when exposing patients to radiation.

Aspiring radiology technologists usually need formal, postsecondary education. Many schools offer certificate, associate's and bachelor's degree programs, though the BLS stated that associate's degrees are the most common option. Programs typically train students on a variety of standard radiologic equipment through classroom learning and clinical rotations. In some cases, students can transfer credit toward a bachelor's degree program. States are federally required to regulate the profession, and many mandate licensing or registration.

The May 2015 salary data supplied by the BLS showed that the median yearly income for radiologic technologists was $56,670. Employer type and location factored into earnings, with those employed at postsecondary institutions making an average of $64,330 annually, and professionals in California taking home an average of $76,070 a year. Job growth for radiologic technologists will increase by 9%, as reported by the BLS.

Registered Nurse (RN)

Registered nurses assist patients and doctors by providing various treatments, support and education. They're often responsible for patient care, administering medication, performing tests and operating medical machines. RNs can offer general supportive services or specialize in a particular discipline, such as obstetrics, oncology or pediatrics.

An employer usually determines specific educational requirements, though states' requirements vary. Those interested in nursing could earn a college diploma, 2-year associate's degree or 4-year bachelor's degree in nursing. Admissions requirements could include prerequisite coursework or nursing experience, though most include a clinical practicum to qualify graduates for licensure. All states require licensing of RNs, which involves passing the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN). Those choosing to focus on a particular area might also need to obtain specialized certification or participate in additional training.

The BLS stated that RNs earned a median annual salary of $67,490 as of May 2015, and the job outlook will rise 16% from 2014 to 2024. The majority of RNs were employed at general and surgical hospitals with an annual median wage of $72,980. The BLS further reported that the states with the highest-paid RNs in 2015 were California, Hawaii and Massachusetts.

There are numerous different types of careers in the healthcare field. Those that involve the most education usually pay more. A career in healthcare usually involves extensive education in some form or another.

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