5 Emerging Healthcare Careers (And the Degrees You’ll Need to Work in Them)
March 10, 2021
With a healthcare landscape transforming into one that’s promising the accelerated use of technology and a greater focus on patient outcomes, the future the field of will require innovative thinkers and practitioners—and in some cases, specific training.
To say that the healthcare industry is changing is an understatement. With a constant flow of new cutting-edge technology and research comes a massive reform in political and legislative guidelines, giving more people access to healthcare than ever before. Innovation needs to happen, and regularly, to meet the demands of a public who wants to stay healthy and do so in an affordable way. Care is slowly becoming more patient-focused as the popularity of customized healthcare plans grows.
Technology, in particular, is rapidly changing what the future of healthcare will look like. Take 3D printing, for example, which is used more and more commonly for the development of surgical cutting and drill guides, prosthetics, and patient-specific replicas of bones, organs, and yes, even blood vessels. The development of specific open-source software has also allowed healthcare professionals to track, retrieve, and utilize valuable data in the fight to control disease and provide better healthcare outcomes.
The use of electronic health records has gained recognition for its ability to automatically alert clinicians to potential issues like allergies or intolerances to certain medicines. These records are accessible from nearly any medical facility, which is extremely useful for healthcare professionals assessing non-local patients—and crucial when a patient is unresponsive. Medical billing software also plays a pivotal role in tracking procedures and reducing paperwork, allowing clinicians and their staff to spend more time focused on their patients.
While imagining the reality of the healthcare industry in the next several decades isn’t the most straightforward exercise, it’s safe to say that future healthcare jobs will require innovative thinkers and practitioners. If anything is clear, it's that change is coming. Whether you’re about to begin your journey into higher education or looking to change careers, these jobs will ensure that your future in healthcare will be particularly bright.
Biomedical software engineer
Quick data access, AI, and the growing importance of software engineering are all quickly becoming crucial aspects of the medical field. The work of biomedical software engineers encompasses all of these factors to help improve the lives of patients living with various conditions in a variety of ways, which includes designing new digital tools and software. In essence, this profession is known for bridging traditional engineering skills with digital medical applications.
Biomedical software engineers who work in hospital settings typically provide guidance on the selection and use of medical software or supervise system testing and maintenance. Biomedical software engineers who pursue government researchers commonly work in product testing and safety, where they establish standards for user programs.
In general, candidates hoping to start in a career in biomedical software engineering need a bachelor’s degree in computer science from an accredited program. Some may choose to complete their bachelor’s degree in a different field and then either pursue a master’s in software engineering or complete on-the-job training.
Nursing informatics specialist
When the U.S. government mandated electronic medical records through the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2012, the healthcare industry scrambled to invest in data management—and bolster a recently emerging specialty. Enter nursing informatics specialists, a field that focuses on the development, implementation, and management of healthcare data. Doing this requires keeping information technology systems as up-to-date as possible and ensuring that all information is accessible to doctors, nurses, specialists, and patients.
Other titles that cover these responsible include nurse informaticist, clinical analyst, and clinical informatics nurse specialist. Though those who work within these specializations are trained as registered nurses and share some of the duties of traditional nursing positions, the emphasis of their work lies on the use of information technology to improve patient care and outcomes.
To enter the field, nurses typically need at least a bachelor’s degree in nursing and experience working with electronic healthcare records. However, the job is so specialized and focused that many employers prefer job applicants who have earned a Master’s in Healthcare Informatics, Healthcare Management, or Quality Management. Nurses who attain a degree in nursing administration with an emphasis on health informatics may also qualify for many jobs.
Health information technician
Whereas healthcare professionals like nursing informatics specialists deal with patient data directly, health information technicians build, implement, and support electronic health records and other systems that capture, manage, and store patient data. As medical coders, these professionals must have a strong understanding of information and technology systems, including programming and data structures, storage structure for data and information, and information and communication technologies. The privacy and security of patient data are also at the top of their priority list.
Depending on the size of the organizations they work for, health information technicians may take on a variety of specific responsibilities. In a small facility, they may need diverse technical knowledge and skills to work with several electronic health record systems or applications. In a larger facility, health information technicians are more likely to specialize in a specific electronic health record application or workflow.
The most clearly defined path to this career is through an associate degree in health information accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Health Informatics and Information Management Education (CAHIIM). Many graduates opt to become certified as a registered health information technician (RHIT) or registered health information administrator (RHIA), which both require passing a national exam.
Virtual hospital administrator
Virtual healthcare refers to the “visits" that take place between patients and clinicians through video and audio technology that occur in real-time from virtually any location. A virtual visit can include a video conference between a doctor and a patient at home or a patient who opts to interact with an offsite medical specialist through conferencing software at their local clinic. Virtual healthcare also enables specialists to monitor situations or procedures from remote locations.
Mercy Virtual Care Center is a leading example of this new approach. Described as a “hospital without beds," it’s home to a large medical team using highly sensitive two-way cameras, online-enabled instruments, and real-time vital signs to “see" patients where they are. Soon, a growing number of facilities like Mercy Virtual will need dedicated hospital administrators who are well-versed in “bedside" manners and other factors associated with delivering care virtually. At its core, this role is responsible for consistently measuring an organization’s performance to guarantee the medical quality of the facility. They also lead initiatives in training, continuing education, and promotion of staff. On a day-to-day basis, you may also find them managing the facility's budget, liaising with other medical or non-medical departments, and ensuring the compliance of all federal and state regulations and codes.
While the professional requirements to become a virtual hospital administrator aren’t entirely defined, it may be safe to assume they overlap with the credentials of administrators working in non-virtual settings. Qualifications typically include a Master’s in Healthcare Administration (MHA) or Healthcare Management (MHM) degree. A Master of Business Administration (MBA) with a concentration in healthcare administration is also suitable for this career path.
Medical robotics engineer
When it comes to robots and medicine, the future isn’t some sort of Jetson-y daydream, but something that’s happening now. Take Intuitive Surgical’s Da Vinci surgical system, known for facilitating surgery using a minimally invasive approach and, more probably, being controlled by a surgeon from a console. This system has spurred many commercial ventures that have attracted significant financial investments and will continue to improve healthcare in terms of both outcomes and costs.
As healthcare professionals’ understanding of how to use robotics in the clinical settings grows, robotics engineers within the industry will continue to develop a deeper understanding of how to create more intelligent, more capable surgical robots. No matter their specific field, robotics engineers are primarily behind-the-scenes designers who are responsible for building robots and robotic systems that can perform duties that healthcare professionals are either unable or prefer not to complete. Da Vinci, in particular, is known for performing minimally invasive surgery and a 3D high-definition view of the surgical area. In many cases, it’s also provided many of its patients with a quicker recovery time—and others with fewer complications post-surgery.
The day-to-day projects of this role can focus on artificial organs and prosthetic limbs as well as informatics and medical imaging. Starting in the field typically requires a bachelor's degree in engineering or physics, chemistry, or biology for any entry-level job. More advanced positions tend to call for a master's degree or Ph.D. in medical engineering, robotics engineering, or a related field.
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