Why Is a Career in Medicine One of the Top Choices in 2014?

Studying things like cellular meiosis, the nomenclature of carboxylic acids, and the location of the 206 bones in the human body is not exactly a beloved pastime. It's little wonder that the rigor of training for a medical career is a deterrent to entering the field for many. While preparing for a career in healthcare is far from easy, it's nearly impossible to dispute that it's well worth it.

Case in point: U.S. News recently released its Best Jobs of 2014 list, and an astonishing 40 of the 100 jobs on the list are in healthcare. The medical field has all the makings of a dream job: profitability, security, passion, and the satisfaction of knowing you're helping people live healthier, more fulfilling lives. Read on to learn why medicine might have everything you're looking for in a career.

The Demographics of Demand


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According to the Department of Health and Human Services, one in five Americans will be aged 65 or older by 2030, and, by 2050, one in 20 will be aged 85 or older. It's no secret that the prevalence of illness and injury positively correlates with age, and that's especially true for the 85-and-older group, which is the most likely to need medical and long-term care services.

The burgeoning elderly population will only exacerbate the already alarming shortage of healthcare providers, who themselves are aging and retiring at rates unsustainable for the profession. By 2020, America's doctor shortage will reach 45,000, and, by 2025, the nursing shortage will reach 260,000. The result will be unprecedented demand for qualified medical professionals who can help the country keep pace with explosive demand for care.


The Pecuniary Perks

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As dictated by Econ 101, when demand increases and supply remains unchanged -- or, in the case of healthcare professionals, supply diminishes -- a shortage occurs, resulting in a higher equilibrium price for medical services. A corollary of rising healthcare costs is higher salaries for the people who provide medical services. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 15 of the 25 highest-paying jobs in the U.S. are healthcare occupations. The highest-paying job, on average, was anesthesiologist, with a median annual salary of $235,070.

Likewise, doctors earn an average salary of $187,200, and nurses earn $68,910. Nurses especially have incredible earning potential, as they can substantially raise their base pay by working night shifts and overtime. For example, California prison nurse Jean Keller made headlines when she earned $810,000 from 2008-2010 by working overtime. In 2010 alone, she made $269,810, tripling her base pay with overtime.

Go to School for Free

Another compelling perk of entering the medical field is the abundance of generous student loan repayment programs. To combat the growing shortage of medical providers, the government and many employers commonly offer to pay for the education of healthcare professionals. And when you consider that 40 percent of medical school graduates have debt exceeding $200,000 according to the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), loan repayment is nothing to sneeze at.

The Federal Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program, for example, will repay participants' federal direct loans in full after ten years of full-time work in public service. That means that graduates who work for the government or a non-profit can have their loans forgiven after ten years. Similarly, the National Health Service Corps offers loan repayment assistance to health professionals who work in underserved areas for two years or more.

Doctoral Degree Optional

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Many mistakenly believe that job candidates must have a doctoral degree or at least a graduate education to land a high-paying job in the medical field. While the highest-paying jobs tend to need advanced degrees, health care also offers a plethora of well-paying occupations that require only a bachelor's or associate's degree. For example, medical perfusionists, who operate bypass machines that control a person's circulatory and respiratory functions during surgery, only need a bachelor's degree in the discipline to make $93,500 per year.

Those eager to begin a lucrative career without a four-year educational commitment will also find healthcare appealing -- a well-chosen associate's degree is all you need to enter certain lucrative specialties. Here are the average salaries for several positions that require only a two-year degree:

  • Dental hygienist: $71,530
  • Diagnostic medical sonographers: $67,170
  • Radiologic technologists: $56,760
  • Nuclear medicine technologists: $71,970
  • Respiratory therapists: $57,880

The Emerging Role of Non-Physician Providers

One of the consequences of the universal coverage brought by the Affordable Care Act is an imminent influx of patients who have avoided medical services due to a lack of coverage. These patients will compound the already mushrooming demand for health care providers, and the industry will increasingly have to rely on non-physician providers, such as physician assistants and nurse practitioners, to keep up.

Furthermore, the industry continues to make a concerted effort to make healthcare providers more accessible, placing workers at pharmacies, retail clinics, schools, private homes, and workplaces. And many of these community-based providers are non-physician professionals.

The result is an expanding role for nurse practitioners (NPs) and physician assistants (PAs) in health care. This is good news for job seekers whose aversion to a medical career stems from 12 or more years of education and training to become a physician. NPs and PAs perform many of the same duties as doctors but need only a two-year master's degree and a license to practice. The salaries for these occupations are also highly competitive -- NPs earn $95,070 on average, and PAs make $94,350 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

With such explosive growth and attractive pay in healthcare, the question is not "why would you pursue a medical career," but rather "why wouldn't you?" An aging population, universal coverage, and an ever-growing shortage of healthcare professionals are creating a massive demand for qualified candidates. Those seeking a challenging and rewarding career helping others are sure to benefit from the healthcare field's limitless options for almost any interest and education level.

Contributed to jobs.net by Kim Evans

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