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College 101: Should I Be a Doctor? 5 Medical Career Paths to Consider

One reason to consider a career in healthcare is the high demand for workers. Qualified professionals have excellent prospects of finding employment after graduation due to the extremely high job growth rates for many healthcare professions. Those who are interested in a career that enables them to help people, pays well, and has job security may be drawn to this field. Doctors are some of the most visible medical professionals, because everyone sees a medical doctor during their lifetime, beginning in childhood. As of 2020, the median income for physicians was over $200,000 per year. It also takes between 11 and 15 years of study to complete the training to be a medical doctor. Most other medical careers can be pursued with fewer years of study. If you are considering the healthcare field, there are a number of medical programs to choose from and a wide range of medical careers for you to consider.

1. Audiologist

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An audiologist is a medical professional who has a doctoral degree in audiology. This degree can be completed in four years of graduate study after earning a bachelor’s degree, allowing audiologists to enter their field after completing eight years of higher education. Audiologists specialize in diagnosing and treating patients with hearing or balance issues. They may prescribe hearing aids or counsel patients on how to prevent hearing loss. Most audiologists work in medical offices, while others are employed in hospitals. Salary.com reported a median annual income of $83,178 for audiologists as of February 2020.

2. Nurse Practitioner

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The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects job growth for nurse practitioners will be 28% from 2018 to 2028. This is more than five times the average job growth rate for all other occupations. Nurse practitioners need a nursing degree and their registered nursing license, as well as a master's degree in their field. They typically complete their undergraduate and graduate degree in six or seven years. Salary.com reported a median salary of $108,639 for these medical professionals as of February 2020. Nurse practitioners perform many of the same roles doctors perform, as they are often primary care providers and see patients, order medical tests, diagnose their condition, provide health advice, and prescribe medication.

3. Occupational Therapist

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Occupational therapists work with individuals who physically struggle to perform routine tasks. Their patients may have a disability, but they also work with individuals who have to relearn tasks after illness or injury, such as a stroke or brain trauma. Their tasks range from helping patients learn how to button clothes to teaching them how to manage pain. There is high demand for these professionals, with the BLS projecting an 18% job growth rate from 2018 to 2028. As of 2018, the median income for occupational therapists was $84,270. These professionals must earn a master’s degree in their field after obtaining their undergraduate degree.

4. Physician Assistant

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A physician assistant performs many of the same tasks as a medical doctor. They evaluate patients and order tests, and can also diagnose patients and prescribe medication or refer them to specialists for treatment. Over 80% of physician assistants work in hospitals or medical offices. In order to become a physician assistant, you must earn a bachelor’s degree and then earn a master’s degree. College studies typically take six years to complete. The BLS indicates job growth for physician assistants will be 31% from 2018 to 2028. It also reports the median income for physician assistants was $108,610 as of 2018. 

5. Respiratory Therapist

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This medical career is in high demand, pays well, and only requires two years of study to earn an associate’s degree. In February 2020, Salary.com reported the median income for respiratory therapists was $68,255 and the BLS projects a 21% job growth rate for these professionals through 2028. Most respiratory therapists work in hospitals, although some work in nursing care facilities or medical offices. They focus on patients who have difficulty breathing, complete tests to determine a patient’s lung capacity, and confer with doctors to determine how to treat patients with asthma, emphysema, or other medical issues that affect their ability to breathe.

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