What Are Health Careers?

Health careers encompass the full variety of positions involved in caring for the physical and mental health of humans. Health care forms one of the largest industries in the United States and is growing at a faster rate than any other industry. 3.2 million new health care jobs are expected to burgeon between 2008 and 2018.

From birth to death, from preventative care to curing disease, from medicine to surgery, from skin to bones, from cities to the countryside, from the impoverished to the wealthy, from the laboratory to the exam room, a tremendous range and breadth of opportunity exists in the type of positions available in health care. Health careers include specialist physicians performing brain surgery, medical technologists running laboratory tests, and receptionists managing appointments at a doctor's office. Health careers can lead to cancer research, helping children with AIDS, or keeping the geriatric population healthy by providing annual flu vaccines.

Health careers incorporate a brilliant blend of technology and humanity. While many health careers- including physicians, hospital managers, registered nurses, and physician assistants- enjoy a significant salary, this avocation should be chosen not as much for the remuneration as the service to man and the reward of helping others. Those that choose health careers are hardworking, compassionate people whose daily work improves others' lives.

There are many paths to a health career. Nurses and physician assistants generally have a master's degree and years of practical experience. Physicians spend eight post-high school years pursuing a medical degree and then spend several more years in specialty residency programs. However, others interested in medicine, technology, and serving the community can qualify for job opportunities with a high school diploma or college education. The health care industry employs over 14 million people in the United States, with many of these in support positions including office workers, administrators, medical assistants, laboratory technicians, and aides.

Hospitals employ 35%, more than one third, of all workers in health careers. Many hospitals employ more than 1000 workers. Large health centers allow collegial relationships, scheduling flexibility, and research opportunities. The hospital environment is quite different than that of a private practice. Private practices offer a more personal setting designed for long-term doctor-patient relationships.

What are Health Careers

A number of factors influence health careers. One is the high demand for employees, particularly nurses. The high demand for health care workers offers a measure of job security and stabilizes wages. Ever-increasing medical, laboratory, and information technology advances significantly change the health care model from records management to safety to efficiency. The need to control costs also shapes our health care system. Private practices and hospitals actively focus on reducing the amount of time a patient remains in a hospital, stress preventative care, and encourage the use of lower cost medications.

Individuals in health careers work an average of 33.6 hours a week. 20% work part-time, and many hold more than one job. Hospitals, laboratories, and residential care facilities require round-the-clock coverage resulting in shift work and uncommon schedules. Health care workers in private practices are more likely to work a traditional weekday schedule.

Technological and medical advancements require constant awareness and continuing education. While these changes are exciting and result in improved patient care, they also mean that health care workers must be lifelong learners who continuously investigate the latest medical and patient care developments.

Health careers offer meaningful employment at substantial rates of pay. Health care workers can choose among a great variety of positions and work environments while enjoying a measure of job stability. The outlook for health careers is rosy with job opportunities expected to continue to increase substantially. The variety of available shifts can be helpful to individuals who must integrate work with other schedules. The disadvantages of physically taxing work and the stress of ill patients is countered by vibrant learning environments, collegial opportunities, and, most of all, the ability, on a daily basis, to make a very real and positive difference in the lives of others.

Advantages Of Health Careers

The advantages of health careers are numerous and significant. Health care represents over 15% of the United States' Gross National Product. The demand, particularly for nurses, offers income security and the opportunity to find a challenging, enjoyable job. The number of open positions allows careful consideration of work environment, including hours, policies, benefits, colleagues, and general atmosphere.

Health careers cover a broad area and allow room to focus on a specific area or move between different workplaces. Physicians choose specialties ranging from emergency medicine to immunology to surgery. But, options also exist regarding work environments. A physician might choose private practice or hospital work, become a corporate doctor, or an HMO advisor. Nurses have similar options for specialties and work environment. A nurse might care for post-surgical patients, triage an emergency room, support a private practitioner, work in a school, or care for senior citizens in a nursing home. A medical transcriptionist might be employed by a hospital or be an independent contractor working out of a home office.

Advantages of Health Careers

Many health careers offer scheduling flexibility. While the odd hours may be considered a as a negative, the availability of work at all hours offers an advantage for others. Physicians, physician assistants, nurses, and aides can find a position with hours that best meet their personal schedules. For example, a doctor or nurse with children might choose to work night shifts and trade-off parenting duties with his/her spouse. A worker taking classes towards an advanced degree in the daytime might prefer to work evenings and weekends. Part-time positions are also available, allowing some health care workers to work two or three days per week and spend the rest of the week with family or pursuing other interests and obligations.

Due to the required expertise and strong demand, health careers offer significant salaries. As a rule, physicians are the highest paid. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the mean annual salary of a physician is $165,000 to $220,000 depending on the specialty. Physician assistants enjoy a mean annual salary of $87,000, while registered nurses earn almost $68,000. Health care support workers tend to earn less, a median salary of $35,010 for medical records and health information technicians and $29,760 for medical assistants. Additionally, health care positions tend to offer generous benefits policies including health care coverage, reimbursement for licenses and liability insurance, vacation time and paid time off, and reimbursement for continuing education.

Perhaps the most important advantage to health careers is personal fulfillment. At the end of each day, everyone from the radiologic technologist to the physician assistant to the chief of surgery knows that she has made a difference; that her work has the potential to change lives in a positive and very real way. The rewards of a job well done, treating patients, and the appreciation from patients and their families provide valuable benefits to the health care professional.

Disadvantages Of Health Careers

Despite the many advantages of health careers, individuals considering this field should carefully consider the downside of these professions as well. While medical doctors and some other positions are rewarded with substantial pay, other health care workers are not paid particularly well for the irregular hours and sometimes challenging work conditions.

Many health careers demand long and irregular hours. While some people enjoy a standard office shift, employees in hospital or residential care work nights and weekends and may have rotating shifts. Even physicians and nurses in private practice are on-call, responding to clients' late night queries and concerns. In particular, doctors in obstetrics-gynecology private practice expect regular on-call duties that may mean working overnight on a delivery in between two-day shifts. The long and irregular hours can take a personal toll on health and relationships with both friends and family.

Disadvantages of Health Careers

Health career employees are people-oriented by nature. While much is gained from relationships and interactions with coworkers and patients, the job can be emotionally draining. Making decisions about complex and difficult cases can wear on one's emotional and mental health. Some health care workers may disagree with a patient's treatment, adding extra stress to their role. Additional stress comes from acknowledging the limitations of treatment and preparing for a patient's worsening condition or death. Health care workers frequently share in their patient's distress.

In some positions, health care workers are exposed to people with health problems related to drug and alcohol abuse, as well as victims of violence. These cases can take an emotional toll on caregivers. Some medical professionals may find it more difficult to have compassion for those abusing themselves, and may feel frustration, anger, or even trouble attending to a difficult case of domestic violence.

Some health careers are physically draining as well. The roles of nurse and aide particularly demand physical patient handling. These health care workers are called upon to pick up and support patients, move patients in their beds, restrain agitated patients, and to carry supplies, for example. Many health care workers spend the better part of their day on their feet.

A less common, but important, disadvantage of direct patient contact and laboratory health careers is the risk of communicable diseases and exposure to environmental pathogens and chemicals. While protocol and personal protective gear offer significant protections, health care workers risk exposure to colds, flu, chemotherapeutic agents, and resistant bacteria, among other things.

Last Updated: 05/21/2014