Six High-Paying Medical Careers with Lots of Job Openings

Believe it or not, there are plenty of growing occupations that pay well that the Labor Department projects will have plenty of jobs to offer in the coming years. Whether you're planning to go to school soon or are already changing your career, here are some of the top careers in medical fields with lots of jobs expected through the year 2018:

1. Pharmacists

The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a 17 percent increase in the number of pharmacists from 2008 through 2018, the latest numbers available from the federal agency. In 2008 there were 269,900 pharmacists in the country, and that will increase by 45,900 by 2018.

The median annual wage is $106,410 in this career that is expected to grow faster than the average for all occupations. As the population ages and more pharmacists decide to work part-time, job openings will increase. Job duties include distributing prescribed drugs, advising patients on medications, and monitoring patient health. A Doctor of Pharmacy degree is required, which usually takes four years to complete, followed by a one- or two-year residency.

2. Physical therapists

These jobs in physical therapy are forecast to increase 30 percent by 2018, up 56,200 from 185,500 in 2008. The median pay is $72,790. Industries that employ the most physical therapists are home health services, nursing care facilities, general medical and surgical hospitals, physician offices, and offices of other health practitioners.

Physical therapists help people of all ages with functional problems, such as neck pain, stroke, amputation, and work injuries. A state license is required, as is accreditation from the American Physical Therapy Association.

3. Dental hygienist

This is another medical field job that is forecast to grow tremendously through the next eight years, with 36 percent more jobs from 174,100 in 2008 to 62,900 more in 2018, according to federal government statistics.

Dental hygienists earn a median salary of $66,570 for such work as removing soft and hard deposits from teeth, teaching patients how to practice good oral hygiene, and providing other preventive dental care. They examine patients' teeth and gums, recording the presence of diseases or abnormalities. They use an assortment of tools, including hand and rotary instruments, ultrasonic devices, and X-ray machines. They must have at least an associate degree or certificate in dental hygiene. They are licensed by the state.

4. Dental assistant

The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that the number of dental assistants will grow by 36 percent, or 105,600 jobs, from the 295,300 in 2008 to 400,900 in 2018. The median pay is $32,380.

Dental assistants perform a variety of patient care, office, and laboratory duties. They sterilize and disinfect instruments and equipment, prepare and lay out the instruments and materials required to treat each patient, and obtain and update patients' dental records. Assistants make patients comfortable in the dental chair and prepare them for treatment. During dental procedures, assistants work alongside the dentist to provide assistance. They may prepare materials for impressions and restorations, and process dental X rays as directed by a dentist. They also may remove sutures, apply topical anesthetics to gums or cavity-preventive agents to teeth, remove excess cement used in the filling process, and place dental dams to isolate teeth for treatment.

Many dental assistants learn through on-the-job training. Most states don't require a formal education or training to become an entry-level dental assistant. High school students interested in a career as a dental assistant should take courses in biology, chemistry, health, and office practices. The Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA) approved 281 dental-assisting training programs in 2009, and they take about one year to complete.

5. Home health aides

The number of home health aides in the country is projected to increase 50 percent to 460,900 by 2018. The median hourly wage is $9.84, with nursing care facilities paying the best and community care facilities for the elderly paying the lowest.

They typically work for certified home health or hospice agencies that receive government funding and therefore must comply with regulations to receive funding. This means that they must work under the direct supervision of a medical professional, usually a nurse. These aides keep records of services performed and of clients' condition and progress. Home health aides may provide some basic health-related services, such as checking patients' pulse rate, temperature, and respiration rate. They also may help with simple prescribed exercises and assist with medications administration. Occasionally, they change simple dressings, give massages, provide skin care, or assist with braces and artificial limbs.

They're generally not required to have a high school diploma and are trained on the job, which must be at least 75 hours of training.

6. Medical scientist

Medical scientists are projected to increase 40 percent, or 44,200 jobs, to 153,600 in 2018. The median salary is $72,590, excluding epidemiologists.

Medical scientists research human diseases and conditions with the goal of improving human health. Most medical scientists conduct biomedical research and development to advance knowledge of life processes and of other living organisms that affect human health, including viruses, bacteria, and other infectious agents.

Their education and training include having a doctorate in the biological sciences. Some medical scientists obtain a medical degree, instead of a doctorate, but do not become licensed physicians, because they prefer research to clinical practice. It is particularly helpful for medical scientists to earn both a Ph.D. and a medical degree.

Once students have completed undergraduate studies, prospective medical scientists have two career choices. They can enroll in a university Ph.D. program in the biological sciences, which can take six years of study; or they can enroll in a joint M.D.-Ph.D. program at a medical college, which takes seven to eight years to complete.

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