Medical Careers Review

How to Choose the Best Medical Careers

The top performers in our review are registered nurses, the Gold Award winner; radiation therapists, the Silver Award winner; and dental hygienists, the Bronze Award winner. Here’s more on choosing a medical career that meet your needs, along with detail on how we arrived at our ranking of 10 careers.

Choosing a career can be daunting. Whether you're heading to college for the first time or thinking of returning to school to train for a new job, there are a wide variety of careers available in the medical field. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, medical industries are expected to see five million new jobs over the next decade. If the idea of working in a medical field appeals to you but you don't want to return to school for several years, many of the healthcare jobs in our review require only an associate degree.

Other important considerations to evaluate when you start looking for a medical career include the salary and the number of available jobs in the field. If you're interested in careers that require more schooling, read our review of advanced medical careers. You can also read our articles about medical careers to get a clearer idea about what to expect when start down the path toward a new career.

What to Consider When Choosing a Medical Career

In addition to being a growing industry, careers in medicine often have higher than average salaries, opportunities for specialization and advancement, and the less tangible benefit of playing a role in improving your patient's quality of life.

Salary
When choosing any job, one of the most important consideration is how much you'll get paid. Of the ten careers in our review, eight have median wages above the national median salary of $35,540. We used data from Bureau of Labor Statistic's Occupational Outlook Handbook to consider the median, low and high wages available for each of these healthcare jobs. Keep in mind that the salary you earn is dependent on other factors, including where you live and the type of organization you work for.

We've presented you with three different wage figures to consider. One is the amount that the bottom ten percent in that field earns, one is the median wage and the last is the amount that the top earning ten percent earns more than. This should give you an idea of the salary ranges to expect when you begin researching healthcare jobs. Radiation therapists, dental hygienists and registered nurses are the three careers in our review that offer the highest salaries.

Education & Training
These careers require new training and, while not as extensive as the schooling for job like a surgeon, most require at least an associate degree. In terms of earning potential, these careers offer above-average pay while requiring fewer years of schooling. You'll still be able to make a good living, but you won't have to spend all the years in school that an advanced degree takes and you won't get in as much debt.

The majority of the careers on this review require an associate degree. Some, like dieticians and medical lab techs, require a minimum of a bachelor's degree. Other careers, like EMTs and massage therapists, only require a certification, which can take a year or less of training to receive. The trade-off of choosing a career that requires less schooling is that they generally have lower salaries.

Many of these medical careers also offer specializations as well as advanced job titles. For example, a registered nurse can specialize in pediatrics or rehabilitation and can also get further training or schooling to become a clinical nurse specialist or a nurse practitioner.

Many of these medical careers require you to be licensed nationally and by the state you live in. There is often a fee you have to pay for the initial license as well as for renewals. Some states also require you to undergo additional training or continual education.

Finding a Job: Options & Opportunities

Once you've completed your schooling and gotten any necessary certifications, you'll be on the market. Healthcare is among the fastest growing fields, and every career on this review is expected to grow by at least 10 percent over the next ten years, so there should be plenty of openings in whichever career you choose. Careers such as registered nurses, medical laboratory technologists and dental hygienists are projected to add upwards of 20,000 jobs over the next decade.

You may think that if you choose a medical career, you'll only have a few options of where to work, but there are a wide variety of workplace options to choose from. The most common workplaces for a healthcare job are private practice offices and hospitals. These businesses offer the advantage of being stable, established workplaces. Some careers, such as dieticians and massage therapists, present opportunities for self-employment. Being self-employed gives you more control over your clientele and the hours you work. Clinics, government agencies, corporations and nursing care facilities are other options for employment.

Registered nurses and dietitians have the widest variety of workplaces available for them while EMTs are the most limited.

Scheduling Flexibility: Shift Availability & Work-Life Balance

Careers in medicine are well known for requiring you to work many hours and not having a set schedule. This can depend on the place you work at. A private practice usually has more regular hours than a hospital. Some jobs tend to have more variable schedules, requiring you to be on call and to work holidays and weekends. All the careers on our review offer full and part-time employment.

If you are interested in a medical career but want to maintain work-life balance, a job as a dental hygienist or a radiation therapist may be the best fit for you since they have the most set schedule and don't require weekend, swing or graveyard shifts.

Our Verdict & Recommendations

Choosing a new career is a complex decision that relies on many factors. Some are personal and depend on your combination of skills, abilities, passions and desires. We can't include those factors in our review, but we can evaluate each of these careers on salary, job availability, workplace opportunities and schedule flexibility.

When those factors are taken into consideration, registered nurses comes out the best. This career has the most job opportunities, with over 400,000 job openings expected in the next decade. Radiation therapists earn the highest salary, with a median wage of $80,000. Dental hygienists have excellent scheduling flexibility and high median salaries.

 
 
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Rank #1#2#3#4#5#6#7#8#9#10
10-9  Excellent
8-6    Good
5-4    Average
3-2    Poor
1-0    Bad
Registered Nurses Radiation Therapists Dental Hygienists Dietitians and Nutritionists Cardiovascular Technologists Medical Laboratory Technologists Health Information Technicians Respiratory Therapists Massage Therapists EMTs
Registered Nurses Radiation Therapists Dental Hygienists Dietitians and Nutritionists Cardiovascular Technologists Medical Laboratory Technologists Health Information Technicians Respiratory Therapists Massage Therapists EMTs
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Ratings
9.50
9.23
8.77
8.38
8.18
7.70
7.65
7.63
7.13
6.88
10
9
8
7
6
5
4
3
2
1
9.38
10.00
10.00
7.75
10.00
8.25
8.75
9.50
9.50
7.75
7.75
10.00
7.75
8.38
9.50
10.00
7.75
9.15
8.13
6.65
7.88
7.50
8.58
6.65
6.25
9.50
8.58
6.65
7.88
7.50
6.25
8.25
6.25
7.13
8.13
10.00
6.25
8.03
6.25
6.25
 
Job Requirements and Availability
Minimum Degree for Employment Associate Associate Associate Bachelor Associate Bachelor Associate Associate Post-secondary Certificate Post-secondary Certificate
Projected Job Openings 439,300 2,300 37,400 11,000 11,500 52,100 2,900 14,900 26,500 58,500
Percentage of Growth 16% 14% 19% 16% 22% 16% 15% 12% 22% 24%
Number of Jobs Nationwide 2,751,000 16,600 200,500 66,700 52,000 328,200 188,600 120,700 168,800 241,200
Specialization Available
 
 
Advanced Job Titles Available
 
  
   
No National Licensing and Exam Board     
 
   
No State Licensure Required to Work     
 
   
Workplace Opportunities
Private Practice Offices
 
 
Hospitals
 
Self-Employed
  
    
 
Clinics
 
      
Government
    
  
Nursing Care Facilities
  
  
  
Home Health Care
      
  
Schools
  
 
    
Laboratories     
    
Scheduling Flexibility
Full-time
Part-time
Freelance or Consultant
  
    
 
Day Shift
No On Call  
 
No Swing Shift   
       
No Graveyard Shift  
   
 
No Weekend Shift  
       
No Holiday Work  
   
 
10th, 50th and 90th percentile salary figures and job availability numbers were obtained from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics when available. Other data sources included O*Net and Payscale.com. Average entry-level wage was taken from the average of the 10th and 25th percentiles.