Do you envision your life’s work focused on helping others? Maybe
serving others comes naturally to you, or you might be inherently people-oriented, with a desire to connect with fellow humans in meaningful ways. Or maybe you’ve overcome a trying situation and want to help others do the same.
Whatever your motivation, pursuing a field that combines passion and purpose can lead the way to a career spent improving lives and shaping futures. Here are five professions that make a truly positive impact—and the degrees you’ll need for each one.
1. Healthcare Administration
As a healthcare administrator, your role will involve a lot of managing and supervising. You’ll work behind the scenes at a healthcare facility, medical practice, or a specific clinical area. You’ll be responsible for carrying out policies, communicating with staff and department heads, ensuring compliance with healthcare laws and regulations, improving the quality of medical and healthcare services, keeping technology up to date, and monitoring budgets.
A 2015 story by the Chicago Tribune outlined how impactful the role of a healthcare administrator could be. Philip Schettenhelm, division administrator at Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago, finds ways to treat patients more effectively and ensures that his division provides the best care possible. “A hospital is a high-energy setting with constantly changing issues. It’s an environment that’s never boring. Most of all, it’s a job that helps you make an impact on people’s lives.”
For Karen Teitelbaum, president and CEO of Sinai Health System, being a healthcare administrator is about helping people at their most vulnerable. “I don’t think there’s anything more important than serving a community and helping to improve lives. The rewards come in having the ability to make a difference in the lives we touch.”
In a 2015 Payscale survey of the most meaningful jobs, 84 percent of medical and health services managers (the category to which healthcare administration jobs belong) find their work meaningful, and 81 percent are highly satisfied with their job. Healthcare administration is also a high-paying field, with a median annual wage of $98,350 as of May 2017, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Moreover, the healthcare job market is expected to grow much faster than average, at a whopping 20 percent from 2016 to 2026.
Most healthcare administrators begin their careers after completing a bachelor’s degree in a field such as healthcare administration, nursing, or public health. They may start as administrative assistants or medical records and health information technicians, then go on to earn a graduate degree like a master’s in healthcare administration, a master’s in healthcare management, or a master’s in public health.
Nurses care for patients and administer treatments, collaborate with doctors and medical staff, and educate patients and their families on how best to manage illnesses or injuries. Depending on the patient group nurses work with, they can have varied job titles such as cardiovascular nurses, critical care nurses, and public health nurses, to name a few.
A 2015 survey of surveys by The Guardian found that nurses have one of the happiest jobs in the world. “Every day, you go home and you know you’ve helped a sick child and their family—you’ve made a difference,” said a nurse surveyed at a children’s hospice charity. Another nurse reported feeling she makes “a real positive impact on the patient.”
As of May 2017, the BLS notes a median annual wage of $70,000 for registered nurses. Nursing jobs are estimated to grow well above average, at 15 percent between 2016 and 2026.
To start your journey as a nurse, you’ll need a diploma and an associate’s degree or a bachelor’s degree in nursing. From there, you’ll need to pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN) to become licensed. Earning a master’s degree in nursing may open up even more opportunities for advancing your career.
3. School Counseling
School counselors guide students, helping to develop their skills, offering advice on how students can achieve their academic and career goals, supporting those struggling with behavioral and social issues, and collaborating with parents and school staff to help students succeed.
School counselors play an essential role in a student’s life. They help teens navigate pivotal times and often serve as parental figures to those who don’t have role models at home. A few words of guidance from a school counselor can have a profound impact on a student’s future. Because the current quality of and access to counselors in many public schools is lacking, school counselors are all the more vital to the education system.
In Payscale’s survey, 80 percent of educational, vocational, and school counselors find their work meaningful, and 72 percent are highly satisfied with their job. According to the BLS, the U.S. job market for school and career counselors is expected to grow faster than average at a rate of 13 percent between 2016 and 2026. As of May 2017, BLS reflects a median annual wage of $55,410, with the highest 10 percent of counselors earning over $91,960.
Most school counselors are required to have a master’s degree in school counseling or a related field like psychology or social work. They may also need to be certified by passing a state exam and completing an internship or fieldwork.
4. Social Work
Those facing difficulties may feel alone and think that no solution is in sight. That’s where social workers come in, to help relieve the suffering of abuse, grief, disability, or illness—and even to encourage people to find work in the face of poverty or unemployment. Social workers improve the lives of people dealing with serious issues, empowering them with the knowledge, tools, and strategies to face their challenges.
Sandra A. Lopez, clinical professor at the University of Houston’s Graduate College of Social Work, believes support is key to making a difference. “I remind myself that of all the people in the world they could be sharing this story with, that I have the honor of bearing witness to their experiences, and I am humbled by these opportunities.”
For Michael P. Dentato, associate professor at Loyola University Chicago’s School of Social Work, it’s all about advocacy and serving as a voice for the unheard. “My passion for the field of social work emanates from the desire to advocate for others that may need a voice within society. I believe strongly that it is our profession’s role to promote social justice for all marginalized populations and groups.”
In Payscale’s survey, 85 percent of child, family, and school social workers find their job meaningful, followed closely by mental health and substance abuse social workers at 82 percent and medical and public health social workers at 80 percent. Job prospects are good, with employment projected to grow at a rate of 16 percent from 2016 to 2026 according to the BLS. The agency notes a median annual wage of $47,980 in May 2017, with the highest 10 percent of social workers earning over $79,740.
To become a social worker, you’ll need a bachelor’s degree in social work or a related field like psychology or sociology. If you want to take the path of a clinical social worker—diagnosing and treating various behavioral, emotional, and mental disorders—you must earn a master’s degree in social work. You’ll then have to complete an internship or field work and pass an exam to be a licensed clinical social worker.
Teachers educate a range of age groups in a variety of academic settings. There are preschool teachers for children below the age of five, kindergarten and elementary school teachers, middle school teachers, high school teachers, postsecondary teachers, and special education teachers
Teachers are among those with the happiest jobs in the world, according to the Guardian’s survey. One teacher said that “the lightbulb moments—watching children make leaps in learning” makes her happy. “Knowing that you’ve helped make a difference to that child and that family is tremendously rewarding,” added a teacher for children with autism.
The BLS estimates a faster than average growth rate between 2016 and 2026 in the employment of postsecondary teachers and preschool teachers. As of May 2017, the median annual wage for postsecondary teachers is $76,000, while high school teachers earn an average yearly pay of $59,170 and special education teachers earn a median annual wage of $58,980.
You’ll need a bachelor’s degree in the teaching path you choose (like early childhood education, elementary education, or special education), and you must be certified or licensed if you want to teach in a public school. You may also need to major in a subject area such as math or science if you want to teach in elementary, middle, or high school. A master’s degree can help you maximize your salary potential and advance your teaching career.
What makes a job meaningful varies for everyone, so take the path that inspires and motivates you, where you can use your skills and talents to make a difference—and maybe sleep a little better at night.
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