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Have you been thinking about a career in the health care field but don’t envision going to medical school? This invaluable article by Farran Powell, an education reporter for U.S. News & World Report, shares insight on some fantastic opportunities that may put you on that path. One of these careers could be the key to your future.
While attending medical school may lead to a profession that is rewarding financially and offers the excitement of working in a medical environment, other advanced health care degrees can also lead to a fulfilling health care profession.
Prospective grad students may consider the following occupations within the expanding health care industry for jobs, all of which offer good salaries and a high potential for employment in light of an aging U.S. population, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
To enter related programs for these jobs, most prospective students will need some specific prerequisites at the undergraduate level, such as a class in chemistry, biology or statistics, in addition to work or volunteer experience. Each program has its own requirements.
1. Genetic counselor: These health care professionals spend their days evaluating and counseling a patient or family members about a genetic risk or inherited condition, such as Down syndrome or cystic fibrosis.
Earning a two-year master's degree in genetic counseling at one of 32 accredited programs in the U.S. plus clinical training will lead to a job in this profession, according to the Accreditation Council for Genetic Counseling. A genetic counselor can expect to make around $67,500, according to the BLS.
2. Physical therapist: Employment in this profession is expected to grow 34 percent over 10 years – faster than the average of all occupations, estimates the BLS in its 2014 "Occupational Outlook Handbook."
"Physical therapy has almost a 100 percent rate in finding a job in six months," says Gail Adams, 22, who has been accepted into a program at Shenandoah University for the fall semester. "It was one of the attractions why I picked it."
The 22-year-old declared her major in Kinesiology at James Madison University early on in college to set herself up for pursuing a career as a physical therapist, which requires a doctoral degree.
"It used to be that this program didn't require a doctoral degree, but now it's the same as other programs like pharmacy," says Gregory Hicks, department chair of physical therapy at the University of Delaware—Newark, which offers an accelerated doctoral degree within 2.5 years.
3. Speech language-pathologist: This health care vocation is another field growing rapidly since speech language-pathologists treat a wide segment of the population. Some of their tasks are to treat and help prevent communication and swallowing disorders, such as those caused by a stroke or developmental delay.
Most states require a speech pathologist to have a master's degree, says Patricia Zebrowski, a professor at the department of communication science and disorders at the University of Iowa.
But those with a bachelor's in communication science disorders might be able to find work at elementary schools, working with children, depending on the state's requirement, experts say.
"Most of our graduates have a job before they even graduate because the need is really great," says Zebrowski, who adds that the demand for speech pathologists exceeds supply. "If you look at the U.S. occupation outlook, the growth predictions for speech pathology are through the roof."
A speech pathologist can expect to make around $50,000 to $70,000, depending on where that professional works, the Iowa professor says.
4. Occupational therapist: These therapists work with a large cross section of the population, assisting children or adults recovering from an illness or diagnosed with a disability to develop skills needed for everyday activities.
The nation's aging baby boomers are fueling demand for this profession, experts say. The American Occupational Therapy Association refers to this health care occupation as "recession proof." An additional 30,400 occupational therapists will be needed by 2024 to keep up with the population's need, according to the bureau.
To become an accredited professional, most practitioners need a master's or doctoral degree in occupational therapy and to pass their board degree in this field, according to the AOTA.
5. Audiologist: These health care professionals use computers and devices to test a patient's hearing ability and balance. Audiologists treat patients with a variety of hearing problems or balance disorders, such as vertigo, or tinnitus, the constant ringing in one's ears.
"If you want to be audiologists, you have to get a clinical doctorate and that's three to four years. At the end of it, you have a clinical doctorate and that's different than a Ph.D.," Zebrowski says.
A typical salary for an audiologist ranges between $66,227 at audiology franchises and retail chains to $82,000 in hospitals, according to a 2014 survey published by the American Speech-Language Hearing Association.
6. Nursing practitioner, nurse anesthetist and advanced practice registered nurse: These occupations not only serve the community, but in many cases fetch a salary north of $100,000 – especially for those nurses specializing in anesthesiology, nursing experts say.
"The programs are very attractive to students because of the Affordable Care Act, so more and more individuals are seeking nurse practitioner programs because there are a lot of job opportunities," says Fran Cornelius, chair of the master's in nursing advanced role program at Drexel University.
To pursue a master's in nursing, applicants must have a bachelor's in nursing or be a registered nurse who has fulfilled the bachelor's program through a "bridge program." For prospective students without a background in nursing, there are accelerated 11- or 12-month programs to earn a B.S.N., Cornelius says.
The need for these nurses is growing because of the shortage of physicians in the medical field, says Martinique Pallack, 35, a registered nurse who is pursuing a master's degree at Drexel in nursing with a concentration in innovation.
"Within a decade, there is a going to be a huge physician shortage and a lot of reliance on nurse practitioners and APRNs," Pallack says. "These nurse practitioners and APRN’s are going to fill a gap within the health care system."