The most common factor cited for the mushrooming job growth in allied health is the large number of aging Baby Boomers who are expected to live longer than previous generations and require more medical services.
However, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) points to some other factors why healthcare is the field expected to lead job growth until 2020.
Among them: physicians trying to shave costs are turning to more assistants; doctors becoming more specialized are creating the need for someone to provide routine health care; health services focusing on cities are leaving a gap in rural areas; and improvements in diagnosing ailments and treatments are opening new careers and uses for technicians and therapists.
Still, with U.S. Census Bureau data showing nearly 50 million people, or 16% of the nation’s population, were 62 or older in 2010, the Baby Boomer generation is the primary fuel for healthcare growth.
Allied health careers include jobs in the medical field other than nurses, physicians and dentists, such as technicians, therapists and assistants. Here are seven of the top paying allied health jobs and how fast the BLS projects they will grow.[tbpspa]
These workers administer ultrasound, sonograms or echocardiogram tests usually for diagnosing illnesses or injuries. They also maintain the equipment and check results to be sure they can be used for a diagnosis.
You can find bachelor or associate degree programs in sonography with courses including terminology, clinical study and interpreting images. Many programs focus on specific parts of the body the sonographer may specialize in, such as obstetrics, gynecology, muscles, the skeleton or joints.
Salaries range from $45,000 to $88,000 with a median pay of $64,000. Demand for jobs is expected to grow 44% over the next eight years.
These workers are sometimes called medical laboratory scientists and they analyze fluid and tissue samples, operate lab-testing equipment and test blood for typing and compatibility. They also supervise laboratory technicians and frequently work with doctors to examine results of their tests.
The profession usually requires a bachelor’s degree with courses in medical realms such as biology, chemistry and microbiology as well as studies in math, management and clinical lab techniques. You also need an associate’s degree focusing on science courses before seeking the bachelor’s degree.
The pay ranges from $38,800 to $76,700 with $56,000 as the median pay. The BLS projects this field will see an 11% job growth through 2020.
These are the people who handle the administrative end of clinics, hospital departments, nursing homes or a group practice for doctors. In addition to supervising the billing, finances and records of a facility, duties include responsibilities found in most management-level positions such as scheduling and compliance with regulations. They also work closely with medical staff.
Entering this field requires a bachelor’s degree in health administration and master’s degrees are fairly common. Courses for the degree would cover accounting, human resources, hospital organization, budgeting, strategic planning and health information. There are specialties focusing on specific facilities such as nursing homes or group practices.
Salaries reflect the responsibilities of the position ranging from $51,000 to $145,000 with a median pay of $84,000. Job growth is projected to be 22%.
Also known as PAs, these professionals handle myriad treatment duties while working under a doctor’s supervision. They meet with patients, perform exams, diagnose problems, treat injuries, interpret tests and prescribe some medications. PAs can work in a variety of medical fields such as emergency, psychiatry or family care.
This profession typically requires a master’s degree. Most physician assistants enter graduate programs with a bachelor’s degree and some have experience in the health field. The programs usually take two years of full-time courses. Study areas would include clinical medicine, anatomy, physiology, and ethics in both classroom and lab settings.
The salary ranges from $57,000 to $117,000 with a median pay of $86,000. Job growth is expected to be 30%.
These are the people who take over after an injury or illness to help patients recover by supervising rehabilitation treatments. They will diagnose a patient’s problem and create a treatment program that can include exercise, education and therapeutic procedures such as massage. The work covers patients of all ages with problems ranging from amputation to stroke.
The profession requires post-graduate study that sometimes can be a master’s but also could be a doctorate that may last three years. Master’s programs usually run two or three years. Either requires a bachelor’s degree with required studies including biology, chemistry and anatomy.
Pay for a physical therapist ranges from $53,000 to $108,000 with the median salary of $76,000. Job growth is projected to be 39%.
These workers use radiation to treat patients, mostly for cancer. They are responsible for ensuring the right amount of radiation is given to the correct area of the body, they watch patients during treatment for adverse reactions, maintain the equipment that directs highly charged X-rays at cancers cells and make sure safety procedures are followed for themselves, patients and fellow workers.
Most radiation therapy programs will end in a bachelor’s or associate’s degree in radiation therapy. Studies will include anatomy, physics, computer science and radiation therapy procedures.
Salaries range from $51,000 to $110,000 with a median salary of $75,000. Job growth is expected to be 20%. The aging population and advances in treatment techniques could push demand for the profession higher.
These workers treat patients for breathing problems that can range from asthma and damaged airways to premature infants with under-developed lungs. They test and examine patients with respiratory problems, devise and supervise treatment, instruct patients on treatments and may connect patients with severe breathing problems to respirators or ventilators.
Respiratory therapy requires at least an associate’s degree, but employers typically prefer more thorough training and education. Programs at most institutions will award either an associate’s or a bachelor’s degree, though a bachelor’s degree provides the best prospects for employment.
Course work usually covers chemistry, pharmacology, anatomy and microbiology as well as covering therapeutic and diagnostic tests.
Salaries range from $40,000 to $73,000 with a median pay of $54,000. Job growth is expected to be 28%.