Health Professions

What Career Should You Choose?

A nurse in a hospital hallway
••• A nurse records notes on a patient's chart. Tetra Images / Brand X Pictures / Getty Images

Health care has been a hot industry for a while, and it promises to continue to be one over the next several years at least. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts it will add more jobs than any other occupational group—over 2.4 million—between 2016 and 2026 (Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Healthcare Occupations, Occupational Outlook Handbook). 

There are several career segments within the health care industry: the health professions, health technology, and health care support.

Here are 14 health professions, those careers in the industry that typically require at least a bachelor's degree:

Audiologist

Audiologists treat and diagnose people who have ear problems including hearing and balance difficulties. To work in this field you will have to earn a Doctor of Audiology degree (Au.D.). This endeavor takes most students about four years after they graduate from college. To practice, you will need to have a license.

Audiologists earned a median annual salary of almost $76,000 in 2016. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) expects employment to grow by 21 percent between 2016 and 2026. 

Learn More About Becoming an Audiologist

Dentist

Dentists diagnose and treat patients' problems with their teeth and gums. You will need to attend dental school for four years after you earn your bachelor's degree. A state-issued license is required to practice.

Dentists earned a median annual salary of $160,000 in 2016.

According to the BLS, employment will increase by 19 percent from 2016 to 2026.

Learn More About Becoming a Dentist

Dietitian or Nutritionist

Dietitians and nutritionists plan food and nutrition programs and supervise the preparation and serving of meals. To become a dietitian, you will have to earn a bachelor's degree in dietetics, foods and nutrition, and food service systems management.

To become a nutritionist, study nutrition in college or graduate school. Most states license dietitians, but many do not license nutritionists.

Median annual earnings were approximately $59,000 in 2016. The BLS predicts employment growth of 15 percent between 2016 and 2026.

Learn More About Becoming a Dietitian or Nutritionist

Doctor

Doctors diagnose and treat injuries and illnesses. After graduating college, you will have to spend four years in medical school and then between three and eight years in an internship or residency program. After you complete your education, you have to get licensed.

Family and general practitioners earned a median annual salary of almost $190,500 in 2016, surgeons made over $208,000 and some specialists made slightly more than $187,000. Employment growth is expected to be 13 percent between 2016 and 2026.

Learn More About Becoming a Doctor

Occupational Therapist

Occupational therapists use exercises and techniques to help patients learn to perform daily living or work-related activities. Becoming an occupational therapist will require earning a master's degree and then getting a license.

Occupational therapists' median annual salary in 2016 was almost $82,000.

 Employment is expected to grow by 24 percent between 2016 and 2026. 

Learn More About Becoming an Occupational Therapist

Optometrist

Optometrists provide primary vision care. They examine people's eyes to diagnose vision problems and eye diseases. If you aspire to be an optometrist, you should plan to attend optometry school for four years after you graduate from college. You will also need a license.

In 2016, optometrists earned a median annual salary of just over $106,000. Employment is expected to increase by 18 percent between 2016 and 2026.

Learn More About Becoming an Optometrist

Orthotist or Prosthetist

Orthotists design and fabricate orthoses, which are orthopedic braces. Prosthetists make artificial limbs. Some people work in both areas. You will have to earn a master's degree to practice in this field.

In some states, a license will also be required as well.

Median annual earnings for orthotists and prosthetists were $65,630 in 2016. Employment, the BLS says, should increase by 22 percent between 2016 and 2026.

Learn More About Becoming an Orthodist and Prosthetist

Pharmacist

Pharmacists dispense medications that doctors and other health practitioners prescribe to their patients. They also provide information about those particular drugs and help the patients understand how to use them. To become a pharmacist, you are going to need a Doctor of Pharmacy degree. You can expect to spend between four and six years in pharmacy school depending on whether you have an undergraduate degree when you enter. You will also need a license.

In 2016, pharmacists earned a median annual salary of just over $122,000. Employment projections show just over 6 percent growth between 2016 and 2026.

Learn More About Becoming a Pharmacist

Physical Therapist

Physical therapists help patients who have suffered injuries or illnesses by providing services that restore function, improve mobility, relieve pain, and prevent or limit permanent physical disabilities. You will have to earn a doctorate in physical therapy and then pass national and state licensing exams.

Physical therapists earned a median annual salary of $85,400 in 2016. The BLS projects employment growth of 28 percent from 2016 to 2026.

Learn More About Becoming a Physical Therapist

Physician Assistant

Physician assistants provide primary health care services under physicians' supervision. To work in this field, you will have to get a master's degree from an accredited physician assistant training program and then pass a national certifying exam.

In 2016, physician assistants' median annual salary was $101,480. They can expect to experience an increase a 37 percent increase in employment between 2016 and 2026.

Learn More About Becoming a Physician Assistant

Registered Nurse

Registered nurses treat patients and provide advice and emotional support to them and their families. If you want to become a registered nurse you can either earn a bachelor's of science degree in nursing (BSN), an associate degree in nursing (ADN), or a diploma in nursing. You must also pass a national licensing exam and fulfill any other licensing requirements set forth by the state in which you plan to work.

Registered nurses earned a median annual salary of almost $68,500 in 2016. According to the BLS, this occupation will experience an increase in employment of 15 percent from 2016 to 2026.

Learn More About Becoming a Registered Nurse

Respiratory Therapist

Respiratory therapists evaluate patients with breathing or other cardiopulmonary disorders and deliver treatments to them. You can earn an associate or bachelor's degree in respiratory therapy to qualify for a job in this field. In most states you will also have to pass a national exam.

Respiratory therapists earned a median annual salary of almost $59,000 in 2016. The BLS expects employment to grow by 23 percent between 2016 and 2026.

Learn More About Becoming a Respiratory Therapist

Speech Pathologist

Speech pathologists work with people who have speech-related disorders including the inability to produce certain sounds, speech rhythm and fluency problems, and voice disorders. You will be required to earn a master's degree in speech pathology and, in most states, get a license if you want to work in this field.

Speech pathologists earned a median annual salary of almost $75,000 in 2016. The BLS predicts employment will grow by 18 percent between 2016 and 2026.

Learn More About Becoming a Speech Pathologist

Veterinarian

Veterinarians deliver healthcare to pets, livestock, and zoo, sporting, and laboratory animals. You need a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM or VMD) from a college of veterinary medicine to work in this occupation, an endeavor that will take an additional four years after earning a bachelor's degree. All states require veterinarians to have a license.

Veterinarians earned a median annual salary of $89,000 in 2016. Employment, predicts the BLS, will increase 19 percent from 2016 to 2026.

Learn More About Becoming a Veterinarian

Explore more Careers By Field or Industry

 

Comparing Careers in the Health Professions
 Minimum EducationLicenseMedian Salary (2016)
Audiologist Doctor of AudiologyReq. in all states$75,980
Dentist Dental school (4 + years after bachelor's)Req. in all states$153,900 (salaried dentists); those in private practice may earn more.
Dietitian And NutritionistBachelor'sReq. in most states$58,920
Doctor Medical school (4 + years after bachelor's)Req. in all states$190,490 (family/general practice); over $208,000 (surgeons); $187,200 (some specialists)
Occupational TherapistMaster'sReq. in all states$81,910
OptometristOptometry school (4 years after at least 3 years of undergrad)Req. in all states$106,140
Orthotist or ProsthetistMaster's DegreeReq. in some states$106,140
Pharmacist Pharmacy school (4 years after at least 2 years of undergrad)Req. in all states$122,230
Physical TherapistMaster'sReq. in all states$85,400
Physician AssistantMaster'sReq. in all states$101,480
Registered NurseBachelor's, Associate or DiplomaReq. in all states$68,450
Respiratory TherapistAssociateReq. in most states$58,670
Speech PathologistMaster'sReq. in most states$74,680
VeterinarianVeterinary school usually after collegeReq. in most states$88,770

Sources: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook; Employment and Training Administration, U.S. Department of Labor, O*NET Online (visited January 15, 2018).