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Health Care Education Offers a Good Career Diagnosis

If you've been to a doctor's office or hospital lately, or taken a family member in because of an appointment or emergency, you've seen first-hand the need for more workers in health care.

Just think: You can be part of the solution, by pursuing a career in health care, which is expected to generate 3.2 million new jobs between 2008 (when the industry had 14.3 million jobs) and 2018, according to government data.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the job growth in health care is faster than any other industry.

So whether you want to be the next McDreamy or in a behind-the-scenes role in health care management or information technology, the opportunities abound.

While some health care professionals care for individuals as early as birth, a big factor for the industry's job growth is the baby boomer and senior adult population. Those older Americans don't just need care for current illnesses, but some are very concerned about preventing illnesses and living long, healthy lives.

Where you work in health care can vary, from traditional hospitals and doctor's offices to home healthcare services to nursing care facilities. Within those locations, there's a variety of jobs, but get this the government reports that 10 of the 20 fastest growing occupations are healthcare related.

Health Care Degrees
You don't just need an M.D. -- and years and years of schooling -- to work in the health care profession. Most health care occupations require less than four years of college, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. With a small time commitment for education in your health care field, you could be working in the medical industry.

Certificates: For jobs such as medical assistant or technologist, a certificate program will provide the education you need to work in the field. Even at the certificate level, which lasts about two years, you'll receive clinical and classroom instruction.

Associate degrees: Associate degrees, typically two-year programs, are the typical path for those pursuing occupations such as nursing, health care management, and health information technology.

Bachelor's degrees: Bachelor's degrees, typically four-year programs, are necessary for some healthcare workers, such as health service managers and social workers. Depending on the type of nurse you plan to be, you may need a bachelor's degree.

Master's and doctorate degrees: Postsecondary education is needed for individuals needing specialized training, and definitely part of the path for being a physician, surgeon, physical therapist, audiologist, or optometrist.

New Degree Spotlight
A growing career in health care is being a geriatric care manager, who helps families caring for aging relatives. Job growth in this area is estimated at 35 percent. Programs that lead to a job as a geriatric care managers, or GCM, programs are only offered at a handful of U.S. schools. One of those is University of Florida, which offers a geriatric care manager degree online (for individuals who hold a bachelor's degree).

Programs that prepare you to be a geriatric care manager will educate you in areas ranging from nursing to social work to gerontology. Those programs will help you become a Certified Geriatric Care Manager, which is granted by the National Association of Professional Geriatric Care Managers.

Special Skills in Health Care
The job prospects in health care sound great, but you need more than a desire to help people to make it in this industry. Consider brushing up on your technology skills as you're entering an educational program, or even if you're in the midst of getting your degree in a health care specialty.

Technology skills are necessary as physicians, hospitals, and other health care employers continue to make the move to medical records and digital operations. Tech-related areas such as "nursing informatics," which is described as a hybrid career combining healthcare information technology skills and nursing, are a growing job sector, according to the 2011 Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) Nursing Informatics Workforce Survey.

Inside Look at Healthcare
Kellie Fletcher had a bachelor's degree in business and master's degree in education, but after she left teaching in 2000 to care for her terminally ill mother, she began to consider a new career in nursing.

"I love anything health care-related," says Fletcher, who also is a fitness instructor at an Athens, Ga., gym. "But I also like to work with people and help take care of people."

Her mother, who had been diagnosed with breast cancer at age 39, died at age 52. Fletcher, a mom of two, decided a few years after her mother's death to apply to a nursing program at Athens Technical College in Athens, Ga.

Fletcher, 43, who was halfway through the two-year program in summer 2011, says the amount of work involved in getting a nursing degree has been staggering.

"It is the hardest thing that I've ever done in my life, ever," she says.

During a week, she has to juggle 12-hour clinical shifts, plus two days of class, and of course, homework and exam preparation, all the equivalent of a full-time job or more. She combines the knowledge she's gaining in her nursing classes with clinicals and externship experience (this summer, she worked in a hospital oncology department), which put her in contact with patients.

"What I'm learning now, you have to know. Somebody's life is in your hands," she says.

Spotlight on Five Health Care Career Paths:

1) Audiologist

What you'll do: Listen to this -- audiologists work with individuals who suffer from ear, hearing, and balance problems. You will identify and assess hearing loss, balance, auditory, and other problems. Audiologists help individuals manage those difficulties, by providing treatment and tools such as hearing aids and implants.

Average salary: $70,000

Degree needed: Graduate degree, and in some areas, degrees such as Au.D., Ph.D., and Sc.D. are required.

Hiring outlook: Good. Jobs for audiologists are projected to grow 25 percent from 2008 to 2018, much faster than the average for all occupations.

2) Medical Lab Technician

What you'll do: Medical lab technicians, or clinical laboratory technicians, are responsible for performing routine tests on patients to diagnose, treat, and prevent disease. Your knowledge of specific medical instruments and techniques also will help you recognize errors and other factors that could impact the results.

Average salary: $36,030

Degree needed: Associate degree

Hiring outlook: Strong. Jobs are expected to grow by 14 percent between 2008 and 2018.

3) Dental Assistant

What you'll do: You'll handle everything from sterilizing dental instruments to educating and assisting patients to performing administrative work.

Average salary: $33,230

Degree needed: After completing a dental assistant program accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation, you can receive certification to work as a dental assistant.

Hiring outlook: Excellent. A 36 percent increase in jobs is expected from 2008 to 2018.

4) Health Information Technician

What you'll do: This health care job sector is in an area of growing importance, in this digital age and with the need to protect patient data. Health information technicians collect, monitor, maintain and report paper and electronic-based health data that meets legal and regulatory standards as well as other professional and industry guidelines. Tasks may be related to the coding, analysis, data abstracting, and release of information, data privacy and security, and quality measurement.

Average salary: $39,100

Degree needed: Associate degree

Hiring outlook: Very good. An additional 35,100 medical records and health information technicians jobs, or 20 percent growth, is expected to be added from 2008 to 2018.

Nurse

What you'll do: Nurses comprise the largest health care occupation (with 3.1 million registered nurse jobs, according to American Association of Colleges of Nursing). Nurses help care for, treat, and educate patients in a variety of settings, from hospitals to physicians offices to hospice settings to rehabilitation centers. Nurses handle a variety of tasks, including: recording patients' symptoms and medical histories; performing diagnostic tests; operating medical equipment; administering medications and treatment; supporting and following up with patients and their families. Nursing specialties include pediatric oncology, urology, and dermatology.

Average salary: $62,450

Degree needed: Options are an associate degree in nursing (AND), a diploma, or a bachelor's of science in nursing (BSN). There also are master's degree programs in nursing.

Hiring outlook: Excellent. An estimated 581,500 new jobs will be added (a 22 percent growth) from 2008 to 2018.

Sources: www.ama-assn.org, U.S. Bureau for Labor Statistics

Fun Facts About Health Care

Dr. Derek Shepherd, or McDreamy (played by Patrick Dempsey) on "Grey's Anatomy," earned his medical degree from Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons.

University of Pennsylvania boasts the nation's first medical school, in 1765, and the first U.S. hospital build for a medical school.

The newest medical schools in the U.S. include: The Commonwealth Medical College in Scranton, Pa.; the University of California, Riverside; Central Michigan University; Quinnipiac University in Hamden, Conn.; and Rowan University in Camden, N.J.

Child prodigy-turned-Dr. Doogie Howser (played by Neil Patrick Harris in the late 80s and early 90s) got his M.D. from Harvard Medical School.

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