The 6 Fastest-Growing Healthcare Careers (And the Degrees You'll Need to Start in Them)
April 22, 2022
1.9 million new healthcare jobs? Yes, and you can thank a Boomer for it.
Look back on any healthcare-related experience in your life, and you’ll agree: the industry requires much more than doctors alone. At its most basic, patient care requires a team of healthcare providers and assistants across a range of services. The demand for in-depth, specialized training, in particular, is partly in response to meet the needs of medical advances and the new means of healthcare delivery.
The demographics of American patients have a lot to do with this evolving demand, too. According to a 2009 report from the American Society of Clinical Oncology, in addition to the U.S. population growing by 25 million each decade, the aging American population is boosting the demand for cancer services, as well as contributing to a lack of health care professionals. The report also sites NCHS reports from 1990 to 2005, saying, “the number of average visits to physicians by people over the age of 45 has risen significantly over the past 15 years.
New and changing technology will also affect healthcare, and healthcare workers, like professionals in all other fields, will need to pursue ongoing education to maintain maximum employability. Most health technologies today focus on increasing transparency and reliability of information for patients, offering online healthcare reports and mobile technologies that monitor your health.
Remote consultations with specialists and intuitive mobile apps have led to improved patient care and in many cases, a superior overall healthcare experience. Innovative treatment technologies—like 3D printing and virtual reality, to name a few—have also led to better outcomes and enhanced patients’ quality of life. While the popularity of many of these technologies remains relatively low today, their inevitable adoption helps make a few occupations on this list some of the most exciting professions to watch out for.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) Indicates that the employment of healthcare occupations is estimated to grow 14 percent through 2028. It’s a projection that equates to about 1.9 million new jobs—more than any of the other occupational groups. Of the fast-growing, the healthcare jobs on this list include the most promising job outlooks in the industry. Even more impressive, each landed a spot on the BLS’s list of 20 U.S. occupations with the highest job growth through 2028.
1. Home health aide
This occupation tops BLS’s record of fastest-growing healthcare jobs with a projected 36 percent growth into 2028, most likely due to patients’ increasing reliance on home care as an alternative to nursing homes or hospitals.
Home health aides are responsible for taking care of patients who suffer from chronic illnesses or disabilities, or are elderly and need continuous care while living at home. Aides who aspire to work for agencies supported by Medicare or Medicaid must have a minimum level of training and pass a competency evaluation to be certified. Some states allow aides to take a competency exam to become certified without taking any training. In other states, the only requirement for employment is on-the-job training, which employers typically provide. Other states require formal training, whether through community colleges or vocational schools.
2. Occupational therapy assistant
Occupational therapy is a diverse field, catering to a wide range of practice areas. Not surprisingly, finding the right treatment can require thinking outside the box. It can also mean stepping outside the clinical setting. As a result, those in the field must constantly devise new and exciting occupational therapy interventions. Given the growing demand for occupational therapy and the lightning-speed development of new therapy techniques, the BLS estimates the employment of occupational therapy assistants will grow 33 percent between 2018 to 2028.
Occupational therapy assistants support occupational therapists in helping people with disabilities, illnesses, and injuries to perform the daily activities of living we equate most with independence. It’s up to occupational therapy assistants to carry out the treatment plans that occupational therapists prescribe. Their work includes monitoring client activities to make sure they perform their plans correctly, providing encouragement, and recording progress.
Typically, occupational therapy assistants need an associate’s degree accredited by the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education (ACOTE) to begin work in the field. A license is also necessary to practice in all 50 states.
3. Physician assistant
Physician assistants (PAs) emerged in the 1960s as a response to a shortage of doctors that continues in some communities and healthcare specialties today. But that’s only part of why physician assistants are vital to the healthcare system. The role has also expanded over the last 60 years to almost every area of medicine that physicians. These days, their work makes up one of the most dynamic and promising professions in healthcare, one that’s estimated to grow 31 percent by 2028.
PAs most typically practice under the direct supervision of a doctor, surgeon, nurses, or other healthcare leaders. They usually provide primary medical services, from performing examinations and diagnosing injuries and illnesses, to and administering treatment and prescribing medicine. While many PAs work in primary care and internal medicine settings, others may encompass administration, academia, and research opportunities.
Prospective PAs will need to earn their master’s in physician assistant studies from a program accredited by the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant (ARC-PA), which usually takes two to three years. In addition to coursework, they’ll participate in supervised clinical training in one or more areas of medicine before taking the Physician Assistant National Certifying Examination (PANCE) to gain professional licensure.
4. Nurse practitioner
As the significant shortage of U.S. physicians help PA opportunities grow, it’s also led to the implementation of specific policies and procedures that have allowed nurses to take on additional responsibilities in the healthcare field. Their increase in responsibilities isn’t solely due to the lack of physicians, but the fact that they can deliver efficient, cost-effective patient-centered care. BLS estimates that the employment nurse practitioners will grow 26 percent by 2028.
While nurse practitioners operate independently, many also contract or work in collaboration with hospitals, outpatient centers, and medical clinics. Their duties range from performing physical examinations to diagnosing and managing acute and chronic conditions. They also prescribe both pharmaceutical and non-pharmaceutical treatments and educate patients on particular conditions and diseases, risks, and preventions.
Those who have goals to become a nurse practitioner must first become a registered nurse (RN), typically through a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) program. From there, they’ll need to complete a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree. Many graduate-level programs allow students to pursue nursing specialties as varied as adult care, mental health, pediatric care, and emergency care.
5. Speech-language pathologist
As with any healthcare profession, America’s aging population plays a significant role in the growing demand for speech-language pathologists, which the BLS predicts will grow 27 percent through 2028. While aging comes with a host of medical conditions, this occupation is particularly in cases of stroke, brain injuries, and dementia, which can result in speech, language, and swallowing problems. Advances in healthcare have also improved the survival rate of premature infants, who may need help with feeding and swallowing disorders.
Speech-language pathology falls under the communication sciences and disorders discipline, driving professionals of this type to evaluate, diagnose, and treat speech, language, communication, and swallowing disorders. They have the opportunity to work with diverse clients in a variety of environments, including public and private schools, health agencies, nursing facilities, hospitals, outpatient clinics, and private practices.
Speech-language pathologists need at least a Master’s of Communication Sciences and Disorders to practice. Master’s degrees in this area typically include Master of Arts (MA) or Master of Science (MS) programs, while Master of Education (MEd) programs prepare speech-language pathology educators. Graduation from an American Speech-Language-Hearing Association-accredited program is typically a requirement to complete certification, supervised postgraduate work, and often, for state licensure.
6. Physical therapy assistant
Once again, the explanation behind the growth of physical therapy jobs finds a connection with the burgeoning population of senior citizens. An increase in chronic conditions—like obesity, diabetes, and skeletal disorders—that affect mobility has also created an increased need for the role. According to BLS, the employment of physical therapy assistants will grow 23 percent through 2028.
At work, physical therapy assistants work closely with teams of physical therapists and physical therapy aides to rehabilitate patients who are working to regain their full range of motion and strengthen injured or weakened muscle groups. They spend much of their time working one-on-one with patients, observing their progress and showing them new stretches and exercises to help get them back on track to recovery.
All states require physical therapy assistants to have an associate’s degree from a program accredited by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education. After graduating, they’re eligible to take the National Physical Therapy Exam (NPTE) to gain licensure.
Questions or feedback? Email firstname.lastname@example.org