The medical field is as diverse as the conditions and people it treats. From doctors who specialize in pediatric cancers to prosthetists who fit patients with artificial limbs, there are careers in medicine for almost every professional interest. Educational requirements also vary widely, from six-week training certificates to a decade or more of postsecondary instruction. Regardless of specialty or position, one characteristic most medical careers share is strong job growth.
Doctors can choose from dozens of practices. They can focus on specific patients, such as children or the elderly, or they can concentrate on treating certain conditions, such as cancer. Also, many doctors emphasize treatment of particular systems. Obstetricians and gynecologists specialize in the female reproductive system. Psychiatrists treat patients with mental disorders. Gastroenterologists treat digestive diseases, while dermatologists clear up skin conditions. Surgeons operate to set broken bones, remove tumors and fix congenital deformities.
Nurses are at the front line of patient care. Certified nursing assistants help with in-patient care and daily living tasks such as personal care. Licensed practical nurses support doctors and nurses in hospitals and other general care facilities, administering drugs and setting up intravenous therapies. Registered nurses monitor patient conditions, help to diagnose and treat patients and supervise nursing assistants and LPNs. Responsibilities depend on your education level. RNs with a two-year degree work with patients, while RNs with a bachelor’s degree can work in more varied areas, including community health and management. Advanced practice nurses with master's or Ph.D. degrees specialize in anesthesia, midwifery or family practice.
Pharmacists and pharmaceutical scientists create and dispense medications. Pharmacists are experts in the composition, side effects and interactions of prescription drugs. Community pharmacists work in drugstores, dispensing and counseling patients on medications. Pharmacists also work for hospitals, insurance companies and pharmaceuticals manufacturers. Professionals in pharmaceutical sciences work for drug makers, where they handle research and clinical trials, and oversee quality compliance and regulatory affairs.
Allied health encompasses a range of fields related to medicine. Many allied health workers give support to doctors and nurses, and work on teams to provide diagnostic and therapeutic services. Allied health employees include technicians who work in anesthesia, cardiovascular care, emergency medicine and medical laboratories. Dietitians are part of allied health, as are physical and occupational therapists. Other positions include radiation therapist, optometrist and speech and language pathologist. Orthotists and prosthetists, who provide patients with prosthetic limbs, are allied health practitioners, as well.
There’s a medical career for virtually every education level. Certified nursing assistants have the quickest educational route, requiring six to 10 weeks of training in basic nursing skills, personal care and safety and emergency procedures. A two-year associate degree can qualify a student for a career as a registered nurse, occupational or physical therapy assistant, radiologic technician or surgical technician. Physical and occupational therapists need at least a bachelor’s degree. Doctors need the most education, including a bachelor’s degree, a doctor of medicine degree and residency training. It can take a decade or more for a doctor to complete her education.
Virtually every medical field has a bright employment outlook. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics forecasts 24 percent job growth among doctors, and a 26 percent increase in nursing positions, from 2010 to 2020. For physical therapists, the BLS projects growth at 39 percent. The BLS credits an aging population for job gains. Improving technologies will also drive increased demand for medical professionals. Hiring opportunities will be strongest in underserved areas such as rural communities and inner cities. Growth should also surge in outpatient centers and long-term care centers such as nursing homes.
- Oregon Health & Science University: Becoming a Nurse
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: What Physicians and Surgeons Do
- Mayo Clinic: Careers in Pharmacy
- Purdue University College of Pharmacy: Is a Career in the Pharmaceutical Sciences Right for Me?
- St. Mary’s College of California: Careers in Allied Health
- Lorain County Community College: Allied Health and Nursing
- University of Florida: How Do I Become a Doctor?
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Job Outlook
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Job Outlook