Thanks to this defibrillator of a recession, health care's future has a beat. Not long ago, the sector seemed statistically doomed: Baby boomers were about to hit medical care providers with a double whammy--retiring from their jobs as nurses and doctors and aging their way into hospitals and clinics in waves as patients. The recession seems to have caused something of a reprieve, as older workers delay retirement, health care demand slows, and unemployed workers consider new careers in the promising field.
For people looking to join the health care field, however, the array of possible occupations can be mind-boggling, and the job titles often read like medical gibberish. Here's a brief guide to six promising health care jobs you may not know much about.
Dosimetrist: This job is critical to the treatment of cancer. As members of the radiation oncology team, dosimetrists are responsible for calculating and measuring the dose of radiation that will be used for treatment. They work with the radiation therapist, medical physicist, and radiation oncologist to determine the best treatment plan for their patient. On-the-job training to become a dosimetrist may be possible for a person already working as a radiation therapist. Formal dosimetrist study programs may require either work history as a radiation therapist or a bachelor's degree in the physical sciences.
Phlebotomist: If you faint at the sight of blood, this probably won't be a good career choice for you. (Indeed, you may want to use extreme caution in choosing a career from the health care field.) Phlebotomists are medical technicians who draw blood. The required training programs range from a single semester to a full year of study, so it can be a good choice for people with only high school diplomas. The pay is pretty well in line with the briefer amount of required training--about $11 to $12 an hour, according to Labor Department data.
Cytotechnologist: This job requires an interest in the details and patterns of the human body at a cellular level. Cytotechnologists examine human cells under a microscope for signs of malignancy, infection, and other diseases. They work side by side with pathologists to determine a diagnosis of abnormalities. To get hired as a cytotechnologist, you are likely to need a bachelor's degree in cytotechnology or a similar subject. Keep in mind that some states have licensing requirements.
While checking out cytotechnology, take a look at the entire range of lab technology careers. "Lab technologists are unsung heroes," says Irina Lutinger, senior administrative director of the clinical laboratories at New York University Hospitals Center and board member of the American Society for Clinical Pathologists. Lutinger says an impending worker shortage has been slowed by the recession, but there is still a minimal number of incoming lab technologists compared with the retirement rate. Lab technology is the "backbone of medicine," Lutinger says, noting that 70 percent of physician decisions are based on lab data.
Nurse practitioner: Americans pay nearly 600 million visits to nurse practitioners each year, according to the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners. They head to an NP for services similar to a physician's--diagnosing and treating conditions, prescribing medication, and ordering tests--in various settings, such as clinics, hospitals, schools, and nursing homes. NPs are registered nurses who have advanced degrees and other qualifications that meet states' nurse practitioner licensing requirements. The recent trend of in-store medical clinics may put you in touch with a nurse practitioner. Many employ NPs to give shots or prescribe antibiotics. The outlook for this job is especially bright, as more patients look to nurse practitioners to serve as primary-care providers at a lower cost than a physician. While the growing use of practitioners has been especially prominent in rural communities, Mote says the trend has recently been accelerating in urban areas, as well. There were nearly 350 postgraduate nurse practitioner programs offered in 2006, according to Labor Department data.
Nurse anesthetist: Nurse anesthetists provide anesthesia and pain management services. These nurses complete three years of additional training to be able to provide anesthesia without a supervising doctor. While the average salary--roughly $100,000 to $150,000 a year--sounds like premium pay, it still tends to be much less than what an anesthesiologist earns. This occupation attracts more men than many other nursing occupations: About 44 percent of nurse anesthetists and student nurse anesthetists are male, compared with under 10 percent in the total nursing field, according to the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists.
Medical record coder: If you like the field of health care but you're not much of a people person, this job may be a good fit. Medical record coders--also known as health information coders or coding specialists--are responsible for coding patients' records to bill insurance companies or programs such as Medicare. Medical care providers rely on medical coders to capture the most reimbursement for the services they render. The job generally requires a two-year associate's degree, after which some registration or credentialing may be necessary.
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