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Pursuing a Career in Healthcare

Which Healthcare Career is the Best Match for you? Find out by exploring our Healthcare Career Guide.

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Healthcare is one of the fastest growing occupational fields in the United States. Even with the country’s overall unemployment rate being 6.6% (as of January, 2014), the healthcare industry is continuously looking to employ new individuals. “Employment among healthcare occupations is expected to increase by 29 percent,” states the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

If you’re still in high school or wanting to change fields or re-enter the workforce, then you should definitely consider some of the numerous health care positions available. The best part is, getting your foot in the door may not be as time consuming and costly as you think. Numerous positions only require educational training that takes from less than a year to two years to complete. There are even some positions you can apply for with a high school diploma.

Careers with a High School Education

Although educational requirements vary by employer, here are some positions that those with a high school/GED diploma, or even those who are still in high school, may be eligible for:

Home Health Aides

  • Educational minimum: Those still in high school may be eligible for these positions and employers provide on-the-job training.
  • Job growth from 2010 to 2020 according to the BLS (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics): 69%

Physical Therapist Aides

  • Educational minimum: High school/GED diploma plus on-the-job training. (Note that these positions are not the same as physical therapist assistants who require higher education).
  • Job growth from 2010 to 2020 according to the BLS: 43%

Medical Secretaries

  • Educational minimum: Some medical secretary positions are opened up to those with a high school/GED diploma. However, more and more health care facilities are depending on medical secretaries to carry out more specialized roles (as medical administrative assistants, for example). Thus previous office experience or some advanced education will help you get your foot in the door.
  • Job growth from 2010 to 2020 according to the BLS: 41%

Careers with Certificate or an Associate’s Degree

Healthcare team

Where do you see yourself? Find the best career fit for you.

Here are some examples of healthcare positions that require education beyond high school, but the programs may be as short as less than a year to complete:

Medical Assistants

  • Ranked #4 by U.S. News Best Jobs 2012 (ranked #3 among healthcare jobs)
  • Educational Requirements: Less than 1 year to 2 years (certificate program or Associate’s degree). In some cases, employers hire high school grads and provide on-the-job training.
  • Job growth from 2010 to 2020 according to the BLS: 31%

Phlebotomists and other Clinical Laboratory Technicians

  • The BLS includes phlebotomists in a broader category called ‘medical and clinical laboratory technologists and technicians’.
  • ‘Clinical laboratory technicians’ are ranked #13 by U.S. News Best Jobs 2012 (ranked #6 among healthcare jobs)
  • Educational Requirements: For phlebotomists certificate or training programs are generally less than a year long. Clinical laboratory technicians generally require a two-year Associate’s degree.
  • Job growth from 2010 to 2020, for medical and clinical laboratory technologists and technicians overall, according to the BLS: 13%

Surgical Technologists

  • Educational Requirements: Less than 1 year to 2 years (certificate program or Associate’s degree).
  • Job growth from 2010 to 2020 according to the BLS: 19%

Medical Billers and Coders

  • Educational Requirements: Less than 1 year to 2 years (certificate program or Associate’s degree).
  • Job growth from 2010 to 2020 according to the BLS (the BLS calls them ‘medical records and health information technicians’): 21%

Pharmacy Technicians

  • Educational Requirements: Less than 1 year (certificate program). In some cases, high school grads can receive on-the-job training or those thinking of advancing their career in the future will complete an Associate’s degree.
  • Job growth from 2010 to 2020 according to the BLS: 32%

Licensed Practical Nurses (LPNs)

  • Educational Requirements: One year (or less) certificate program.
  • Job growth from 2010 to 2020 according to the BLS: 22%
  • Note that Registered Nurses (RNs) are ranked #1 by U.S. News Best Jobs 2012. (Many LPNs, after some work experience, decide to advance their careers and become an RN. There are many convenient transitional educational programs that enable this).

Dental Assistants

  • Educational Requirements: One to two years (certificate or Associate’s degree program).
  • Job growth from 2010 to 2020 according to the BLS: 31%

Physical Therapy Assistants

  • Educational Requirements: Generally a two-year Associate’s degree.
  • Job growth from 2010 to 2020 according to the BLS: 45%

Medical Transcriptionists

  • Educational Requirements: Generally one to two years (certificate or Associate’s degree program).
  • Job growth from 2010 to 2020 according to the BLS: 6%

Ultrasound Technicians/Diagnostic Medical Sonographers

  • Educational Requirements: Generally a minimum of a two-year Associate’s degree.
  • Job growth from 2010 to 2020 according to the BLS: 44%

Healthcare Field Careers – Frequently Asked Questions

FAQs for High school students

What courses should I take in high school to prepare for a healthcare career?

For most healthcare positions, a solid foundation in math, science and English during your high school years is definitely the way to go. To stand out from other applicants, whether you are applying for a job right away or applying for a college/university program, it is a good idea to challenge yourself and take advanced level courses. “Taking a challenging ‘college prep’ schedule that includes four years of math, science, and English will help you qualify for most health career education programs,” states ExploreHEALTHCareers.org. “Strong grades and Advanced Placement courses will look even better on your transcript”.

If you have already completed high school and haven’t taken some of these courses, do not despair. Numerous schools offer continuing education high school courses for those who have already graduated.

“This growth [in the healthcare field], resulting in a projected 3.5 million new jobs, will be driven by increasing demand for healthcare services. As the number of elderly individuals continues to grow, and as new developments allow for the treatment of more medical conditions, more healthcare professionals will be needed.” – U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)

Can I start working in healthcare during or right after graduating high school?

Yes, some employers will hire high school students or grads for positions such as home health care aides, medical secretaries and physical therapy aides. Working in these positions, while making plans for college, will help get you gain some valuable, hands-on experience.

What are some tips for getting my foot in the door?
Start exploring your career options in your spare time. Volunteer in hospitals or other health care settings to find out which roles you enjoy. (Numerous hospitals offer volunteer programs for teens). Research college programs and find out which pre-requisites are required. Some educational institutes and organizations also offer a pre-health enrichment programs and camps for high school students or grads.

FAQs for Adults switching careers

Is it crazy that I want to switch careers?
No not at all. Whether you are not finding your job fulfilling or are worried about its stability, it is completely understandable that you want to switch careers. And the healthcare industry is an ideal choice since overall, healthcare jobs are expected to increase by 3.5 million or 29% (2010-2020), according to the BLS. Plus, you’re never too old to switch careers, especially when it comes to health care. “The demand for mature and skilled workers to meet shortages in the healthcare industry has never been higher,” states ExploreHEALTHCareers.org. Many employers appreciate candidates who have varied and extensive life experiences, which have enabled them to develop qualities like compassion and skills like responsibility, work ethic and out-of-the box thinking.

What’s the easiest way for me to switch careers?
Start researching some of the careers listed above to see what you might be interested in, based on your own experiences and talents. Perhaps you’re meant to directly work with patients, play an administrative role, work behind the scenes or perform laboratory or diagnostic duties. As you start researching educational programs, you’ll notice that many do not take very long to complete and several offer the option of a part-time or online program, so you can continue to work as you complete your studies.

FAQs for current Healthcare Professionals wanting to Move Up/Expand their Career

Why should I move up the career ladder?
Besides the obvious (higher pay), moving up the career ladder will enable you to take more pride in your work, grow in confidence and feel more fulfilled. Often times, expanding your career also allows you to specialize in a healthcare area that you are passionate about.

How can I move up that ladder?
While moving up the career ladder varies according to position, generally experience and some continued education will enable this process. For example, the path from LN to RN involves further education, but this is not overwhelming – numerous schools offer LN to RN transition programs and some are offered online. Or if you are currently a medical biller and coder or a medical administrative assistant, you may some day like to be a leader and work as a health care administrator. One approach is find out about transferring your previous college credits towards a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree in Health Administration.

Of course not every career path is alike. Talk to your supervisors and those around you that have advanced positions. Ask questions and for advice – they can be your mentors as you expand your career.

FAQs for Adults wanting to Re-enter Healthcare after time away

What should be my first steps to re-enter the healthcare industry?
Baby Boomers are making up an increasingly larger portion of the workforce.  If you’re considering moving into a career in healthcare, begin by doing some homework.  Research jobs, whether you want to do a similar position or a new health position, and find out who is employing in your area. Talk to these potential employers and find out what you need to do to be considered and how the industry has changed. It’s also a good idea to talk to past colleagues and join relevant professional associations.

What educational steps should I take?
If you are planning on working in a similar position, find out about what upgrading/refresher courses are available. You also may need to look into renewing licenses and certifications. If you are looking to start a new health care career, ask academic advisors at schools if your previous studies may qualify you for shorter educational programs in that new healthcare area.



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