The COVID-19 pandemic has proved that health care workers are indispensable to the fabric of our society. However, this public health crisis has also precipitated a labor shortage, as many health care workers left the industry due to overwhelming stress and burnout.

Medical staff in discussion at nurses station in hospital

(Getty Images)

The Association of American Medical Colleges predicts that this shortage may worsen in the coming years – projecting a deficit of up to 124,000 physicians by 2034. If you’re considering entering the understaffed health care industry, you may wonder if it’s the right decision.

Should You Pursue a Career in Health Care? 

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment in health care is projected to grow 13% in the next decade, much faster than the average for all occupations. While the promising job outlook – along with the rising demand for skilled health care workers – is good news for those interested in pursuing a career in the field, psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner Kate Hanselman stresses that health care may “not be for everyone.”

“I work with people who are going through some of the worst times of their lives all day long, and it can be a lot to carry.” However, she also shares that the fulfillment she’s gained from her career has significantly outweighed the negatives, which is why she’s still in her profession today.

Hanselman’s advice to anyone considering going into the health care industry is to carefully weigh the pros and cons and decide whether you’re ready to make the necessary sacrifices to succeed in the field.

Pros and Cons of Careers in Health Care

Consider these pros and cons before taking the plunge and pursuing a career in health care.

Pros

  • Career longevity. Despite concerns surrounding the impact of artificial intelligence technologies, many aspects of health care will likely remain immune to those changes since the nature of patient care is rooted in providing personalized attention and empathy – which is less likely to be replicated by machines. 
  • Making a difference. Health care can be a rewarding and fulfilling career path if you’re passionate about making a positive difference, since it provides an opportunity to serve the community and even save lives. 

Cons

  • Long hours and high stress. Chris McDermott, a certified advanced practice registered nurse in Florida, says that one of the biggest downsides of working in health care is “the long hours and high stress levels.” As a nurse practitioner, he often works long overnight shifts and weekends, “which can be physically and mentally exhausting.” Plus, “Dealing with life-and-death situations can also be emotionally taxing and lead to burnout.”

  • Ironically, it can be damaging to your health. McDermott adds, “Health care workers often risk their own health to help their patients. This exposure can increase the risk of infection, illness and disease transmission.” 

Most In-Demand Health Care Jobs

The health care sector is thriving and filled with career growth and advancement opportunities. Here are some of the most in-demand medical career options to consider. Data comes from the BLS.

Roles That Require Minimum Schooling

Respiratory therapists care for patients who have difficulty breathing. They often work closely with doctors and nurses to diagnose breathing disorders and determine the appropriate treatment options. To become a respiratory therapist, you’ll typically only need an associate degree in respiratory therapy.

Median Salary: $61,830
Job Growth Potential: 14%

Registered nurses are licensed professionals who provide hands-on patient care in various medical settings, such as hospitals, physicians’ offices and nursing facilities. To become one, you can take one of these three routes: Earn a bachelor’s degree in nursing, complete an approved nursing program or receive an associate degree in nursing.

Median Salary: $77,600
Job Growth Potential: 6%

Dental hygienists typically work in dentists’ offices and help examine patients for signs of oral diseases and perform preventative procedures such as removing tartar, stains and plaque from teeth. Dental hygienists generally only need an associate degree in dental hygiene, which takes around three years to complete.

Median Salary: $77,810
Job Growth Potential: 9%

Roles That Require a Master’s Degree

Nurse anesthetists are advanced practice registered nurses who administer anesthesia to patients before, during or after surgery. They also monitor patients’ vital signs and assess their physical response to anesthesia. Nurse anesthetists must have a minimum of a master’s degree from a nurse anesthesia educational program accredited by the Council on Accreditation of Nurse Anesthesia Educational Programs.

Median Salary: $195,610
Job Growth Potential: 40%

Physician assistants are licensed clinicians who diagnose and treat patients under the supervision of a physician. They typically work in physicians’ offices, hospitals and other health care settings. To break into the profession, you’ll need a master’s degree from an accredited program.

Median Salary: $121,530
Job Growth Potential: 28%

Nurse practitioners are essentially registered nurses with additional education. The main difference between nurse practitioners and registered nurses is the scope of practice – the former can prescribe treatments, order tests and diagnose patients, whereas the latter can not. According to the BLS, nurse practitioner is the fastest-growing career in the nation and is projected to grow a staggering 46% in the next decade.

Median Salary: $120,680
Job Growth Potential: 46%

Roles That Require Medical School

The main role of physicians – also known as primary care doctors – is to diagnose and treat illnesses. They also see patients when they’re healthy and conduct regular checkups to catch health issues early on. Physicians typically focus on specific medical specialties, including internal medicine, family medicine, neurology and pediatrics. To become a physician, you’ll need a medical degree on top of your bachelor’s degree, which can total eight years to complete. Depending on your specialty, you may also need to complete several years in internship and residency programs.

Median Salary: $208,000
Job Growth Potential: 3%

Dentists diagnose and treat problems with a patient’s mouth, gums and teeth. Their day-to-day duties may include repairing fractured teeth, filling cavities, placing sealants or removing tooth decay. If you’re interested in pursuing a career in dentistry, you’ll need to obtain a Doctor of Medicine in Dentistry degree from an accredited dental program and pass clinical exams.

Median Salary: $160,370
Job Growth Potential: 6%

Physical therapists’ main responsibility is to treat patients with mobility, strength or musculoskeletal issues. They often use hands-on techniques, therapeutic exercises and individualized treatment plans to help patients improve their range of motion and overall body function. To enter the profession, you’ll need a Doctor of Physical Therapy degree after getting a bachelor’s degree. You must also complete a clinical residency and pass the National Physical Therapy Examination to obtain your license.

Median Salary: $95,620
Job Growth Potential: 17%

Tips for Starting a Career in Health Care

Health care careers can be rewarding and lucrative, but it also takes hard work and dedication to be successful in this field. If you’re thinking about becoming a health care worker, here are some tips to boost your chances of landing your dream role.

1. Be clear on your “why.” 

A career in health care can be demanding and is not for the faint of heart. Some roles require several years of schooling and can often be mentally draining and expensive. That said, a career in the medical field can also be incredibly rewarding, which is why so many people are willing to make the sacrifice. So, before diving head first into health care, get clarity on your “why.” Are you driven by a desire to help others and make a difference in people’s lives? Or are you motivated by the financial rewards that can come with a successful health care career? Whatever your reason, be honest with yourself so you can decide whether a medical career is the right choice for you.

2.  Conduct a personal SWOT analysis.

Beth Sanford, professor of nursing at Rasmussen University, says you should get to know yourself better by completing a SWOT analysis of your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities for growth and threats to success before pursuing a career in health care. Here are some example questions she recommends asking yourself:

  • What are my natural strengths and weaknesses?  
  • What health care discipline best leverages my natural abilities? For example, direct patient care or administration? Community-based or in-patient facility based?
  • What are my long-term goals? Does this career path give me growth opportunities?
  • Do I have reliable child care? (Some health care disciplines may not have a traditional workweek of 9 to 5.)

3. Develop strong communication and empathy skills.

Jordan Rosewarne, an osteopath and co-owner of MPR Health, says effective communication is critical. If you’re interested in becoming a health care worker, he urges that you “develop the ability to convey information and demonstrate empathy toward patients.” “Sometimes, the most important thing you can do as a health care professional is to make your patients feel heard and understood,” he says

4. Carefully consider your options before committing. 

Dr. Kris Berkery, physician executive at DrFirst, says it’s crucial to “consider all your options before narrowing in on one.” When most people think of a career in health care, they picture working in a hospital, clinic or outpatient center. But Berkery says there are also plenty of opportunities in other industries, “such as health IT, consulting, medical device companies and pharmaceutical developers.” So, research as much as possible and explore your options before making the commitment. Attend career fairs and networking events, shadow health care workers and ask plenty of questions to gain insight into the specific roles you’re interested in.

Build a Fulfilling Career in Health Care

With the world’s aging population and increasing demand for health care services, the potential for job security and growth in this industry looks promising. So, if you’re passionate about helping people and making a positive and tangible impact in others’ lives, consider breaking into the health care industry and building a fulfilling and rewarding career.