Helping people in need is a natural impulse, and it's part of the appeal of healthcare careers. Although being a caregiver can often be stressful, many professionals in the healthcare industry enjoy the satisfaction of seeing how their work improves their patients' lives. For example, both nurses and speech-language pathologists interact directly with their patients, often for extended periods. Both are careers with strong employment prospects and a substantial impact on their patients.
Speech Language Pathologist
Anyone who's ever been in a serious relationship – or through a serious breakup – understands how hard communication can be, even for healthy adults. For people with hearing loss, speech problems and some neurological conditions, it can be especially difficult. Speech language therapists work with patients of all ages, diagnosing their communications difficulties and constructing appropriate plans of treatment or therapy. This might include teaching a deaf child to learn to form unheard words, helping a stroke victim regain the power of speech, or working with clients whose stammer or accent represents a barrier to communication.
Nursing is a much broader and more diverse career path. At the entry level, it consists of direct patient care such as changing bandages, administering medications and monitoring vital signs. Over time, many nurses specialize in areas such as surgical care, obstetrics, psychiatry or oncology. Some go on to advanced practice, offering doctor-like care as nurse midwives, anesthetists, nurse practitioners or clinical nurse specialists. Others can exercise considerable influence as public health nurses, policy advisers, or administrators and executives within the health care industry.
Neither profession is one you'll enter on a whim. To become a speech language pathologist, you have to earn a bachelor's degree in any field, with at least a portion of your course work in communication sciences. Then you'll complete a master's or doctoral degree in speech-language pathology, and apply for a license through your state's medical board. Professional certification is available through the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. Registered nurses must complete either an associate degree or a bachelor's degree and then pass the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses, or NCLEX-RN. Advanced practice nursing and other high-level positions require graduate degrees, and sometimes specialized certifications as well.
Speech language pathologists can set up in private practice, or work in schools, hospitals, long-term care facilities or multi-specialty practices with practitioners in other disciplines. The Bureau of Labor Statistics anticipates strong demand for pathologists, projecting employment growth of 23 percent by 2020. Nursing is a broader and more varied field, offering a greater range of career paths. You could work in the up-tempo environment of a hospital, or enjoy a more relaxed atmosphere in a physician's office. Ambitious nurses can earn a high level of professional respect in advanced practice, or in management roles. The BLS expects demand for registered nurses to grow by 26 percent through 2020, much more than the average for all occupations.
Fred Decker is a trained chef and certified food-safety trainer. Decker wrote for the Saint John, New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal, and has been published in Canada's Hospitality and Foodservice magazine. He's held positions selling computers, insurance and mutual funds, and was educated at Memorial University of Newfoundland and the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology.