List of High-Paying Health Professions: Career Overviews

Training in medical care typically covers health care with specialization in specific areas, such as eyes, oral health, or medications. Find out about the requirements of these programs, and learn about career options, job growth and salary info for health care graduates.

There are many medical careers that pay high salaries. Some of the high-paying medical health professions include physicians and surgeons, dentists, optometrists, and pharmacists. All require intensive training and state licensing.

Essential Information

The health care industry offers many career options with varying educational and licensure requirements. Many high-paying careers are available, but are often paired with titles requiring the highest levels of schooling and experience. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts strong continued job growth in the health care industry from 2014-2024; read on to learn more about career outlooks and salary expectations for some of the highest-paying health care positions.

Career Physicians and Surgeons Dentists Optometrists Pharmacists
Education Requirements Medical degree Dental degree Optometry degree Doctor of Pharmacy
Other Requirements Residency, licensure Licensure Licensure Licensure
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)* 14% 18% 27% 3%
Mean Salary (2015)* $197,700 $172,350 $115,750 $119,270

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Career Overview of Physicians and Surgeons

Physicians and surgeons are health care providers who have specialized in an area of medicine; specific examples include pediatricians, primary care physicians and neurosurgeons. All physicians and surgeons must complete a bachelor's degree and then a 4-year medical degree program. After medical school, these individuals go on to complete residencies and sometimes fellowships, depending on a chosen scope of practice, specialty or sub-subspecialty. All physicians and surgeons are required to be licensed to practice medicine and must pass the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE).

In 2015, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported a mean annual salary of $197,700 for physicians and surgeons working for hospitals.

Career Overview of Dentists

Dentists provide oral health care to help prevent issues and maintain good oral health. In general, these professionals practice general dentistry, but some go on to become specialized--such as orthodontists, oral surgeons or maxillofacial surgeons. Becoming a dentist requires completing a 4-year dental degree program. Specializations can require completing additional post-graduate work or a residency program. Dentists must pass the National Board Dental Examinations and be licensed by the state in which they practice.

In May 2015, the BLS reported a mean salary of $172,350 for general dentists, while orthodontists were reported to make more than $221,390 a year.

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Career Overview of Optometrists

Testing people's vision, screening for glaucoma and fitting individuals for glasses or contact lenses are a few of the duties of an optometrist. Most optometrists practice general optometry, but specialties do exist--such as pediatric optometry or vision therapy and rehabilitation. Aspiring optometrists must complete at least a 4-year optometry degree program. Those wishing to specialize typically go on to a residency program.

All optometrists must be licensed in order to practice. Candidates must take and pass national board exams as part of the process to become licensed by a state. The BLS reported that the mean salary of optometrists was $115,750, with ranges from $51,780 to $187,200 or higher as of May 2015.

Career Overview of Pharmacists

Pharmacists work in hospitals and pharmacies. They dispense medications to patients while providing advice and information on correct dosage and drug interaction. Pharmacists offer guidance to physicians and other health care professionals in medication prescribing. Some pharmacists go on to work in research of medications.

After completing pre-pharmacy education, aspiring pharmacists complete a 4-year pharmacy degree program (PharmD). Pharmacists must be licensed by the state in which they work. Additionally, they are required to take and pass the North American Pharmacist Licensure Exam (NAPLEX). In May 2015, the BLS indicated that pharmacists had a mean salary of $119,270, with ranges from $86,790 to $154,040 and higher.

Of the high-paying medical careers listed here, optometrists make the lowest average annual salary, at $115,750 per year, while orthodontists have the highest mean annual salary, earning $221,390 per year. With the exception of the slower-than-average job growth rate projected for pharmacists, all of these fields can expect much faster than average job growth of 14%-27% from 2014-2024, which means that there will be many high-paying opportunities for graduates ready to pursue a career as a physician and surgeon, dentist, or optometrist.

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