1. Home Health Aide
Home health aides provide one-on-one assistance to the elderly and to people who are disabled, chronically ill or mentally impaired. Aides go into their clients' homes or residential facilities to provide day-to-day health care and complete basic household tasks. They may also offer advice to patients and their families on maintaining nutrition, cleanliness and housekeeping.
- Projected employment growth: 69% between 2010 and 2020
- 2012 median salary: $20,820
- Education & training: There's no degree requirement for home health aides, and training requirements vary from state to state. However, anyone who works for a company or agency that is reimbursed through Medicaid or Medicare must complete a basic training program and pass a competency exam.
2. Physician Assistant
Being a physician assistant, or PA, is almost like becoming a doctor without spending 4-10 years in medical school. PAs share many responsibilities with doctors - including diagnostic, therapeutic and preventative health services - but complete them under the supervision of a physician. Duties may include taking medical histories, examining patients, ordering lab tests, treating minor injuries and even ordering and carrying out basic therapy. Although they may have some managerial duties, PAs are not typically required to perform clerical tasks.
- Projected employment growth: 30% between 2010 and 2020
- 2012 median salary: $90,930
- Education & training: Physician assistants must complete a 2-year training program, after which they're required to obtain state licensure. Many, but not all, PAs have a college degree before they start training. Physician assistant programs are offered at community colleges, allied health centers and medical schools. Many military medical facilities offer PA training as well.
3. Medical Assistant
Medical assistants keep health offices of all kinds running smoothly. These professionals perform diverse clinical and administrative tasks that can vary depending on the type of practitioner for whom they work. Medical assistants at large offices may also specialize in a particular area, such as pediatrics or dentistry.
- Projected employment growth: 31% between 2010 and 2020
- 2012 median salary: $29,270
- Education & training: Only a high school diploma is required in order to enter this field; on-the-job training may be provided. However, many vocational and community colleges offer 1-year certificate programs or 2-year associate's programs in medical assisting. Although postsecondary training isn't necessarily required for medical assistants, it can help you get that first job and command a higher salary.
4. Medical Records and Health Information Technician
Policies, procedures and laws regarding patient medical records are so complex that they require specialists. Medical records and health information technicians assemble patients' health information, including medical histories, symptoms, test results, diagnoses, treatments and other provider info. These professionals also manage an office's health information data system - ensuring that it's secure, accurate and accessible - and communicate with information technicians in other offices.
- Projected employment growth: 21% between 2010 and 2020
- 2012 median salary: $34,160
- Education & training: Most medical records and health information technicians have a certificate or associate's degree in health information technology. These programs are offered at many community colleges, vocational schools and allied health centers. Employers often prefer technicians who have professional certification as well.
5. Medical and Clinical Laboratory Technician or Technologist
Medical and clinical laboratory techs examine and analyze bodily fluids and cells to identify microorganisms and abnormal cells. They also perform a variety of other chemical and biological tests on blood and other fluids. Technologists can perform more complex tests and assist in diagnosis. Technicians - who receive less training - perform fewer laboratory procedures, are more likely to perform automated tests and must work under the supervision of a technologist or physician.
- Projected employment growth: 13% between 2010 and 2020
- 2012 median salary: $37,240 for technicians, $57,580 for technologists
- Education & training: Technologists are usually required to have a bachelor's degree in medical technology or one of the life sciences (such as biology); technicians need an associate's degree or vocational certificate in one of the same fields. Some states also require licensure, and many employers prefer to hire technicians and technologists who are certified by a recognized professional association, such as the American Medical Technologists.
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012-2013 Edition.