Types of Medical and Healthcare Careers

Explore the myriad careers in health and medical fields, including patient-focused, administrative, and lab-based options. Discover some of the higher paying occupations in the field and the types of specializations you can choose from.

Careers in the Medical Field

Careers in the medical field are incredibly diverse. Medical careers are also specialized and complex, since our bodies and systems can be complicated and there are numerous genetic factors, environmental influences, and lifestyle choices that affect our health.

Even if you decide to follow the path of becoming a doctor or a nurse, two of the best-known careers in medicine, there are numerous medical specializations from which you can choose, including:

  • Pediatrics
  • Geriatrics
  • Oncology
  • Cardiology
  • Neurology
  • Family Medicine
  • Internal Medicine

Other career choices in medical fields include a dentist, podiatrist, optometrist, a diagnostic medical sonographer, or a nuclear medicine technologist, among many other options. Health careers can also include alternative and complementary medicines, such as acupuncture, chiropractic, and massage therapy.

Health and medical practices are often treated in a clinical setting with a team that can involve a medical assistant, a nurse, a specialized doctor, and/or laboratory technicians. If doctors' offices and hospitals aren't where you envision your working life, there are also research laboratories or community organizations where you can have a medical career. Additionally, administrative jobs might appeal to you if you're interested in healthcare and pharmacy but not necessarily in practicing medicine.

If you desire to work in the medical field, you'll need to consider the capacity in which you would like to interact with people, the amount of schooling you are willing to complete, and the associated licenses, certifications, and continuing education you'll need to commit to obtaining throughout your career.

Types of Medical Jobs

When you think of medical jobs, do you think of patient-focused work that involves consultations and patient care? Many medical jobs, including the well-known positions of a doctor or nurse, as well as jobs as a dentist or surgeon, typically consist of hands-on medical work.

A medical assistant is often the first person who attends to you when you go to an appointment. They do routine procedures, like get your weight and height and blood pressure, typically followed by a diagnostic survey. Then, a nurse or a doctor will take this preliminary information about your symptoms to help diagnose your condition and suggest further tests and consultations or prescribe medications and treatment plans.

But this type of hands-on job is only one side of the spectrum of the health and medical field. What about scientists who work in research or in a laboratory? While many medical professionals work as part of a team, there are also plenty of medical jobs where you work alone, like medical scientists or laboratory technicians. Plus, there are administrative jobs like medical transcription and maintenance jobs like medical appliance repair.

Taking a different approach, you might be fascinated by the pathology of illness and the factors that contribute to good health but don't want to interact with people constantly. If you'd like to contribute to good health and a wholesome life, you may be interested in learning more about medical professions for introverts. You could choose from careers like nuclear medicine technologist or radiologist. However, some of these jobs may involve working in more intimate patient care or research teams, so you may still have interactions with other medical professionals and patients, but in a more limited capacity.

Medical Careers in Demand

Some of the best medical careers for the future that have an anticipated high demand include specialized positions that involve medical technology as well as many types of specialized therapy careers. Check out this table that lists several careers with their anticipated 10-year projected job growth. Each is expected to increase much faster than average compared with all other careers.

Career Expected Job Growth From 2016-2026
Physician's Assistant 37%
Nurse Practitioners, Nurse Anesthetists, and Nurse Midwives 31%
Medical Assistants 29%
Physical Therapists 28%
Massage Therapists 26%
Phlebotomists 25%

Medical Technology Careers

If you're interested in clinical biological science and enjoy working with technology, you may be well suited for a career in medical technology. Some examples of careers that fall into this category are:

  • Surgical technologists and MRI technologists: Prepare equipment, work with medical machines, and assist other medical professionals
  • Phlebotomists: Draw blood, and clinical laboratory technologists
  • Cytotechnologists: Study bodily fluids, tissues, and cells in a laboratory setting

Health and Wellness Careers

Health and wellness covers a broad spectrum of potential career options, including jobs in nutrition, physical health, and mental health. This facet of healthcare is largely focused on preventative health. Some health and wellness careers, like that of a corporate wellness coordinator, are directed at improving employee health in the workplace, while other careers, like that of a community health worker, can be found in community centers, helping to improve the health and wellness of the public.

Types of Health Careers

If you choose to focus on a health career such as a nutritionist or dietician, you can help people choose a healthy diet to support their bodies. One part of your job may be designing individual diets that take into consideration factors like age, physical deficiencies, medication interactions, and client goals. Other health careers can involve athletic training and physical exercise programs for preventative health.

Mental health careers include many types of specialized counseling, such as marriage and family therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, and substance abuse counseling. Not all health careers are patient-focused, though. Some behind-the-scenes professions involve research, policy, administration, and health education.

University Health Careers

Universities are often home to major medical and research facilities that serve both the training needs of medical students and the general population of the city. Health careers at universities can include regular clinical positions, such as registered nurse, as well as educator positions, such as nurse educator.

Apart from affiliated hospitals that treat the general public, universities also have student health clinics. As universities are teeming with students who will need their health care needs attended to while they are at school, medical staff in all capacities are needed at universities and colleges. Some unique health factors you may care for include stress-related ailments due to the demands of coursework or proper health care while living away from home for the first time.

Health Policy Careers

In a health policy career, you may be responsible for several administrative areas dealing with healthcare, including:

  • Management of medical facilities
  • Implementation of the latest technology and research
  • Organization of staffing
  • Compliance with legal requirements

Health policy requires an analytical mind with excellent decision-making and administrative skills. Professionals in this field often work with large amounts of data and may conduct public research and coordinate health care plans and policies to meet the needs of a population of people.

Health Education Careers

Health educators work in schools, community organizations, or public offices and are typically responsible for teaching people about best practices for good health, including proper nutrition and exercise, as well as prevention of illness and disease. Health educators work in clinical settings, community centers, non-profits, corporate wellness programs, parks and recreation, or departments of health. Their role is often research and policy oriented, and they may design initiatives and programs to improve the general health of a community or specific demographic.

However, some health education careers involve more direct work with people through the role of patient education, in which they teach patients about their medical conditions and how to care for themselves and pursue a quality lifestyle.

Careers in Women's Health

Working in gynecology and obstetrics is a specialized area of medicine, and with the most commonly available careers being as an OB/GYN doctor or nurse. Routine jobs in gynecology may include wellness exams, teaching about birth control methods, and STI screenings. Gynecologists treat conditions such as ovarian cysts, HPV lesions, and endometriosis.

The obstetrics side of women's health involves women's care throughout a pregnancy, childbirth, and after the birth of a child. This involves tracking the development of the fetus through ultrasounds, monitoring health issues that may arise for the mother (such as high blood pressure), and informing women about the changes occurring in their body and how to best care for themselves for the best health of their developing baby. There are specialized positions in this field, such as perinatal nurses, labor and delivery nurses, and nurse midwives.

Children's Health Careers

If you're interested in working with children, you may choose to become a pediatrician or a nurse or medical assistant who works in a pediatrician's office or a children's hospital. Some aspects of children's health care include assuring that children are meeting developmental milestones and suggesting interventions if necessary.

You'll also diagnose and treat common childhood ailments, such as ear infections and tonsillitis, and administer vaccinations. You could also work with young patients' developmental issues, specializing in a field like audiology or speech and language pathology to help children overcome disorders and develop as successfully as possible.

Top Earning Health and Medical Careers

A driving factor in choosing to work in a health or medical career is a genuine interest in helping people live healthy, satisfying lives, but it's also good to know the type of earning potential you have in one of these careers. When considering possible salaries, it's important to keep in mind that factors such as the state where you live, certifications or degrees you hold, years of experience you have, and whether you work as an employee or own a private practice can impact how much money you make.

While many medical careers pay well, let's take a look at some of the top-earning health and medical careers that pay a median yearly wage of at least $100,000.

Career Annual Median Salary (2017)
Physicians and Surgeons $200,000 or more (depending on the specialization)
Dentists $158,120
Podiatrists $127,740
Pharmacists $124,170
Nurse Practitioners, Nurse Anesthetists, and Nurse Midwives $110,930
Optometrists $110,300
Physician Assistants $104,860

All statistics come from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2018.