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6 in-demand health care jobs that pay $50K (or more)

Health care careers are not mere jobs: They are a means to changing lives. One need not become a doctor or surgeon to make a difference. In fact, it is often the supporting cast -- the nurses, aides and assistants -- that log the most face-time with patients and their families, bringing comfort and security during an otherwise scary and difficult time. For Christina Bryant, a registered travel nurse in Washington D.C., the helping aspect of the field is precisely what attracted her to it to begin with, even if the work can be challenging.

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"I genuinely love making a difference in people's lives," said Bryant, noting that nursing can be "back-breaking" and "emotionally exhausting" job. "The silver lining in this profession are the patients, and that you leave knowing you have made a difference."

Of course, personal gratification is not the only benefit of working in health care. Job and financial security are factors, too. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS.gov), more than half of the nation's top 20 fastest growing careers (projected between 2012 and 2022) are in the health care. Many health care jobs hold the potential to pay well, too, and not just in good karma. Need proof? Here are six high-impact health care jobs that are not just in demand, but also paid at least $50,000 average a year as of May 2013.

6 high paying health care careers

1. Registered nurses

Registered nurses, or RNs, work with physicians and other health care specialists, coordinating and providing patient care. Some specialize in certain areas of medicine, like critical care or pediatric RNs. RNs can work in a variety of environments, including hospitals, outpatient care centers and physicians' offices. According to the BLS, RNs must graduate from accredited nursing schools and become licensed to practice. That typically means earning a diploma from an approved nursing program, an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) or Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). Licensing requirements vary from one state to the next, but all require candidates to pass the National Council Licensure Examination, or NCLEX-RN.

What they earn: According to the BLS, registered nurses earned a national mean annual salary of $68,910 in May 2013. Bryant said that the best way to improve earnings is to invest in education. "If you are working with an associate degree, consider getting your bachelor's degree," she said, noting that that is precisely what she is doing now. She also recommends investing in voluntary certifications and keeping them current.

Career outlook: The BLS projects that employment of registered nurses will grow by 19 percent between 2012 and 2022, or faster than the average for all occupations nationally. Though job opportunities for RNs are expected to be strong across the board, they may be especially good for candidates with a bachelor's degree or higher. Bryant encourages potential nurses to invest in more training and maintain a "ready to work attitude" to make themselves more "marketable."

2. Physical therapist assistants

Physical therapist assistants -- sometimes called PTAs -- help patients recovering from illness or injury regain movement and manage their pain. They work under the direction of licensed physical therapists, often in physical therapy offices or in hospitals. The BLS reports that in most states, physical therapist assistants must earn associate degrees from accredited PTA schools. Note that physical therapist assistants are different from physical therapist aides, who tend to have less education and, in turn, fewer responsibilities.

What they earn: The BLS reports that in May 2013, physical therapist assistants earned a national mean annual salary of $53,320.

Career outlook: The BLS projects that employment of physical therapist assistants will grow by 41 percent between 2012 and 2022, which is much faster than the average for all occupations. Demand may be even higher in rural areas and in acute hospital, skilled nursing and outpatient care settings.

3. Dental hygienists

Dental hygienists are often the first professional dental patients see in the chair. They clean and examine teeth, looking for signs of oral disease. They also teach patients how to improve and maintain good dental health. The BLS reports that though all states require dental hygienists to be licensed to practice, licensing requirements can vary. Most need at least an associate degree in dental hygiene. Bachelor's degrees are another option, but less common.

What they earn: According to the BLS, dental hygienists earned a national mean annual salary of $71,530 in May 2013.

Career outlook: The BLS projects that overall employment of dental hygienists will grow by about 33 percent nationally, which is much faster than the average for all occupations. Increasing emphasis on preventive dental services combined with federal health legislation that boosts access to health insurance will help spur this demand.

4. Occupational therapy assistants

Occupational therapy assistants help patients establish, re-learn and master the skills necessary for daily living and working. This might entail guiding patients in therapeutic stretches and exercises, or teaching them how to use special equipment that make their lives easier. They work under the direction of licensed occupational therapists. While most work in occupational therapy offices, nursing care facilities and hospitals, some occupational therapy assistants work in schools or home health care services. They must hold at least an associate degree from an accredited occupational therapy assistant program to practice. The BLS notes that most states require occupational therapy assistants to be licensed.

What they earn: The BLS reports that occupational therapy assistants earned a national mean annual salary of $55,250 in May 2013.

Career outlook: The BLS projects that employment of occupational therapy assistants will grow by 43 percent between 2012 and 2022, much faster than the average for all occupations nationally. Job prospects should be especially good for professionals working in occupational therapy offices and other healthcare settings.

5. Ultrasound technicians

Ultrasound technicians -- also called diagnostic medical sonographers -- use ultrasonic imaging equipment to capture the images doctors need to diagnose and treat patients. Though people often associate ultrasound technicians with prenatal sonography, these professionals can image virtually any part of the body. Some choose to specialize in a certain area of health care, like abdominal, musculoskeletal and neurological sonography. The BLS reports that all ultrasound technicians must earn associate degrees or postsecondary certificates to practice. Many employers and, increasingly, states also require professional certification.

What they earn: According to the BLS, ultrasound technicians earned a national mean annual salary of $67,170 in May 2013.

Career outlook: The BLS projects that demand for ultrasound technicians will grow by 46 percent between 2012 and 2022 -- much faster than the average for all occupations. Certified technicians are expected to have the best job opportunities, especially when certified in more than one specialty.

6. Nuclear medicine technologists

Nuclear medicine technologists use scanning equipment to create images of various areas of a patient's body for diagnostic purposes. They must often explain procedures to patients and their loved ones, reposition patients' bodies, and, at times, prepare and administrator radioactive drugs. Some nuclear technologists specialize in positron emission tomography (PET) or nuclear cardiology (NCT) imaging. They usually need an associate or a bachelor's degree in nuclear medicine technology to practice. Some states require nuclear medicine technologists to be licensed, too, though requirements vary.

What they earn: The BLS reports that in May 2013, nuclear medicine technologists earned a national mean annual salary of $71,970.

Career outlook: The BLS projects that overall demand for nuclear medicine technologists will grow by 20 percent between 2012 and 2022 -- faster than the average for all occupations nationally. Techs can improve their employment prospects by become certified in a professional specialty, like PET and NCT imaging.

The careers featured here offer a healthy dose of personal gratification (and job and earnings potential), but are by no means the only helping careers to do so. Potential health care pros can learn more about these and other promising jobs by consulting a resource like the BLS, or by contacting schools with relevant programs directly. Keep in mind that earnings, career outlook and training requirements can vary from one state to the next. The significance of the work and the satisfaction that comes with it? Universal.

Sources:

Dental Hygienists, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Bureau of Labor Statistics, January 8, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/dental-hygienists.htm

Diagnostic Medical Sonographers and Cardiovascular Technologists and Technicians, Including Vascular Technologists, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Bureau of Labor Statistics, January 8, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/diagnostic-medical-sonographers.htm

May 2013 National Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates, United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment Statistics, May 2013, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes_nat.htm

Nuclear Medicine Technologists, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Bureau of Labor Statistics, January 8, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/nuclear-medicine-technologists.htm

Occupational Therapy Assistants and Aides, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Bureau of Labor Statistics, January 8, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/occupational-therapy-assistants-and-aides.htm

Physical Therapist Assistants and Aides, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Bureau of Labor Statistics, January 8, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/physical-therapist-assistants-and-aides.htm

Registered Nurses, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Bureau of Labor Statistics, January 8, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/registered-nurses.htm

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