Is Health Care a Good Career Path? Outlook, Jobs, and More

Written by Coursera • Updated on

The health care industry is projected to grow over the next decade. Read on to find out if it’s the right career path for you.

[Featured Image]: A woman with dark hair, wearing a blue uniform, folding her hands and wearing a stethoscope around her neck.

Health care in the United States is a booming industry with a wide range of jobs offering salaries exceeding the national median. While the Covid-19 pandemic illustrated the importance of health care professionals across the country, the truth is that the health care industry has been projected to grow for some time – even before the pandemic. 

One of the primary factors driving the need for health care in the United States is an aging population requiring an increased need for medical services. According to a 2018 study conducted by the United States Census Bureau, for example, the number of people age 65 and older in the country is projected to exceed the number of people age 18 and younger by 2034 [1]. And that divide is only projected to widen in the subsequent decades. 

In this article, you will learn more about health care and if it might be the right professional career path for you. Here, you’ll find the job outlook for the overall industry, the salary range you can expect, a list of the most common jobs, and learn about other factors that impact health care workers, such as environment and work life balance. At the end, you’ll also find some courses you can take to begin exploring health care concepts and topics. 

Health care job outlook

The job outlook for the health care industry is very positive. 

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), health care occupations are projected to grow by 16-percent between 2020 and 2030 [2]. By comparison, the BLS projects the overall number of jobs in the country to grow by just 7.7-percent during the same period [3]. That means that health care is expected to grow by more than double that of the national average, indicating its a stable industry with strong demand and opportunity for growth. 

Health care salary range

The health care field encompasses a wide range of salaries –  from those below the real median personal income in the United States ($35,805 in 2020) to those well above it [4]. For example, personal and home health aides made a median salary of $29,430 in 2021, while physicians and surgeons made a median salary of $208,000 or more in the same year according to the BLS [2]. 

Many positions, though, provide a salary higher than the median. Registered nurses (RNs), for instance, made a median salary of $77,600 in 2021, while nurse practitioners (NPs) made a median salary of $123,780 [2]. Experience, education level, geographic location, and industry demand ultimately play a large part in how much you can expect to be paid as a health care professional. 

Health care jobs and education requirements 

There is a wide range of jobs in health care – from those that only require a high school diploma to those requiring a doctorate and many years of medical training. Here are some of the jobs you can expect to find according to the BLS [2]. 

High School diploma or GED

  • Home health and personal care aide - $29,430

  • Veterinary assistants and laboratory animal caretakers - $29,780

  • Pharmacy technicians - $36,740

  • Opticians - $37,570

Post-secondary non-degrees (certifications or other qualifications)

  • Medical records and health information specialists - $45,240

  • Medical transcriptionists - $30,100

  • EMTs and paramedics - $36,930

  • Medical assistants - $37,190

  • Phlebotomists - $37,380

  • Dental assistants - $38,660

  • Massage therapists - $46,910

  • Licensed practical and licensed vocational nurses - $48,070

  • Surgical technologists - $48,530

Associate degree 

  • Veterinary technologists and technicians - $36,850

  • Respiratory therapists - $61,830

  • Radiologic and MRI technologists - $61,980

  • Medical sonographers and cardiovascular technologists and technicians - $75,380

  • Registered nurses - $77,600

  • Dental hygienists - $77,810

  • Nuclear medicine technologists - $78,760

  • Radiation therapists - $82,790

Bachelor’s degree

  • Exercise physiologists - $47,940

  • Recreational therapists - $47,940

  • Athletic trainers - $48,420

  • Clinical laboratory technologists and technicians - $57,800

  • Dietitians and nutritionists - $61,650

  • Registered nurses - $77,600

Master’s degree

  • Orthotists and prosthetists - $75,440

  • Speech-language pathologists - $79,060

  • Genetic counselors - $80,150

  • Occupational therapists - $85,570

  • Physician assistants - $121,530

  • Nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives, and nurse practitioners - $123,780

Doctorate and other professional degrees

  • Chiropractors - $75,000

  • Audiologists - $78,950

  • Physical therapists - $95,620

  • Veterinarians - $100,370

  • Optometrists - $124,300

  • Pharmacists - $128,570

  • Podiatrists - $145,840

  • Dentists - $163,220

Health care: Environment, work-life balance, and helping others

Salary and job growth aren’t the only considerations that matter when starting a new career. The environment in which you work, the ability to balance your work with your life, and the impact your work has on others are all important factors to consider when considering a career path. 

In this section, you’ll learn what to expect from health care jobs beyond just their salary. 

Environment

Health care professionals work in a wide variety of environments – from busy emergency rooms to mundane offices. 

As you are considering a career in the medical field, consequently, you should think about the kind of work environment that best fits your personality. While some might thrive on the tension and pressure of the surgery room, others might flourish in the daily routine of providing at-home patient care to the elderly. Others still might enjoy the work of dealing with animals and their owners in a veterinary office rather than dealing with the personal politics of a busy hospital. 

Each career in health care offers the opportunity for working in totally different environments, so consider the kind of environment that you feel fits you best. 

Work-life balance

Different health care jobs demand different time commitments. 

While some jobs require professionals to be perpetually on call in the event of an emergency, others offer typical working hours or even a reduced work week. Running your own medical practice can also give you flexibility and control over their own schedule, particularly in fields like dentistry where medical emergencies are less common. 

Overall, it’s important to consider the commitments you will be making as you pursue a health care career. Many health care professions require a significant time dedication, but there are those that do offer the opportunity for more balance. 

Read more: Work-Life Balance: What It Is and How to Achieve It

Helping others

One of the primary reasons that people consider a career in health care is to help others. As a career path, health care offers ample opportunities to heal and support those in need, whether by diagnosing medical conditions or simply offering emotional support. 

More than most other career clusters, health care is focused on interfacing with others and directly helping them. If this is a concern for you, then you might consider health care as a career option. 

Learn more about health care 

Health care offers a wide variety of career options. Start exploring them today with Coursera. 

The University of Michigan’s Anatomy Specialization introduces coursetakers to the fundamentals of the human body, including the skeletal, muscular, and integumentary systems. The University of Minnesota’s Integrative Health and Medicine Specialization, meanwhile, equips coursetakers with an evidence-based understanding of integrative therapies for patient care. 

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Article sources

1. U.S. Census Bureau. “The Graying of America: More Older Adults Than Kids by 2035, https://www.census.gov/library/stories/2018/03/graying-america.html.” Accessed May 5, 2022.

2. BLS. “Occupational Outlook Handbook: healthcare Occupations, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/health care/home.htm.” Accessed May 3, 2022. 

3. BLS. “Employment to grow 7.7 percent from 2020 to 2030; 1.7 percent excluding COVID-19 recovery, https://www.bls.gov/opub/ted/2021/employment-to-grow-7-7-percent-from-2020-to-2030-1-7-percent-excluding-covid-19-recovery.htm.” Accessed May 3, 2022. 

4. FRED St. Louis. “Real Median Personal Income in the United States, https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/MEPAINUSA672N.” Accessed May  3, 2022.

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This content has been made available for informational purposes only. Learners are advised to conduct additional research to ensure that courses and other credentials pursued meet their personal, professional, and financial goals.

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