Different Fields within the Medical Field

Do you want a medical field career, but aren't sure what you want to do or where you will fit in? Thankfully, there are plenty of career options from which to choose, and not all of them require years of schooling and long residencies.

Perhaps you are interested in dealing directly with people and providing high quality customer service; if so, you might find working as a medical receptionist or hospital intake coordinator appealing. Medical assistants, nurse's aides, and dental hygienists are just some of the careers that might appeal to those interested in medical field careers without investing years in school. If the idea of long-term training does not deter you, then any number of medical careers exists: physician, nurse, physician assistant, nurse practitioner, physical therapist. Many of these upper level vocations require a minimum of four years in college, with most requiring graduate level work with clinical practice. These careers are challenging in both classroom and real life, but those who have the determination and discipline necessary to succeed in these areas will discover a lifelong, rewarding medical career.

School Nurse

If the idea of caring for primarily children in a relaxed, educational setting sounds interesting, then becoming a school nurse could be the perfect job for you. School nurses are in a position to positively impact young lives. Caring school nurses often make a lasting impression on the children for whom they so lovingly care. They provide comfort and reassurance in an often overwhelming world for young children. However, today's school nurses don't just apply Band-Aids to cuts and ice packs to bruised knees. They coordinate and oversee the dispensation of medicines for a number of childhood disorders like ADD, diabetes, and asthma. Children today are sicker and more fragile than a generation ago. More children with disabilities are integrated into the school systems requiring school nurses to be better educated and more experienced in dealing with these challenges. The incidence of food allergies has risen sharply - as much as 18 percent over the last decade, according to a CDC report, and 6 percent of all children in the U.S. report having a food allergy with peanuts most often being the offending culprit. Today's school nurses need to be armed with the latest information about such conditions and need to be adept in responding to emergencies.

Different Fields within the Medical Field

How is school nursing different from other types of nursing? According to the National Association of School Nurses(NASN), school nursing "is a specialized practice of professional nursing that advances the well-being, academic success and life-long achievement and health of students. To that end, school nurses facilitate positive student responses to normal development; promote health and safety including a healthy environment; intervene with actual and potential health problems; provide case management services; and actively collaborate with others to build student and family capacity for adaptation, self-management, self-advocacy and learning” (2010).

Requirements and salaries for school nurses vary from state to state and district to district. Most require a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) with a special certification in school nursing, although some people with associate level nursing degrees do practice as school nurses, and also possess a school nurse certificate. School nurses are required to maintain their certification with yearly continuing education credits. Most school nurses are paid along the same pay scale as teachers and are often included in teachers' unions, subject to the same salary and benefits constraints.

Helpful resources for those interested in becoming a school nurse include your state board of nursing, your state's association for school nurses, and your local school district. These organizations can provide all information pertinent to becoming a school nurse. For example, the New Jersey State School Nurses Association provides helpful links that help keep school nurses informed about legislation affecting their practice, conferences, certification requirements, and bylaws regarding school nursing in the state.

School nursing has changed in recent years, so those interested in this career should make sure they understand the demands of the job. If you imagine yourself putting Band-Aids on knees or just sending kids home with stomachaches, think again. You will have to be well educated and able to stay abreast of the latest developments in pediatric medicine. You will need to be a valuable link in the community - an astute educator, who possesses the talent to reach both children and their parents. If you fit this description, school nursing just may be the perfect career for you.

Medical Secretary

An often overlooked medical career is medical secretary. A medical secretary oversees many medical office and hospital duties. She is usually the first person a patient interacts with when entering a physician's office. When being admitted to a medical or surgical unit in a hospital, the medical secretary is the one who first greets the patients, takes their personal information, makes a copy of their insurance card, and begins putting together the patient's medical chart. On a hospital unit, the medical secretary helps facilitate communication between doctors, nurses, patients, and their family members. The medical secretary is often the central figure on a medical unit. A well-organized medical secretary knows where all the supplies are and what forms need to be filled out when; in short, the medical secretary is the one who knows how to get things done to help the unit run smoothly.

In a private physician's office, the medical secretary also plays an important centralized role. She greets patients, handles calls and questions from patients and other physicians, is involved with billing - of both clients and insurance companies, organizes medical charts, orders supplies and takes stock of office inventory, and if they have the specialized training for medical transcription, transcribe notes dictated by the physician. Some medical secretaries also act as office managers for the physicians for whom they work if they've garnered enough work experience and have proven their professionalism to the doctor.

Many medical secretaries begin their careers as business secretaries then move into the medical field as their interest develops. Extra training may be required for these secretaries as they need to understand medical terminology, medical procedures performed in the specific office in which they work, and diagnosis codes for insurance purposes. The educational requirements to become a medical secretary are minimal. Some physician's offices may require only a high school diploma if the candidate is personable, has good people skills, and has previous private practice experience. An associate's degree in business or certificate from a secretarial school is appropriate for employment. The average salary a medical secretary can expect in the United States is $32,000. Medical secretaries can expect to work full-time, 40 hours a week, unless otherwise negotiated during their hiring process. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) expects the growth rate of the medical secretary occupation to continue to grow along with the national average, to increase about 11 percent between 2008 and 2018 (BLS, 2009). In 2008, medical secretaries occupied 471,000 of the more than 4 million secretarial jobs in the United States. Medical and laboratory assistants often perform many of the clerical functions carried out by medical secretaries, so it's conceivable that medical secretaries could be edged out of some offices where physicians need to cut costs. Medical secretaries will need to keep up with technological trends in the coming years to stay marketable and competitive in the workplace.

Physical Therapist

According to Mosby's Medical Dictionary (2009), a physical therapist "is a person who is licensed in the examination, evaluation and treatment of physical impairments through the use of special exercise, application of heat and cold, and other physical modalities. The goal is to assist persons who are physically challenged to maximize independence and improve mobility, self-care and other functional skills necessary for daily living.” Patients are referred to a physical therapist when a physician diagnoses a patient with some physical ailment that may or may not benefit from pharmacologic intervention. Physical therapists must hold a master's degree from an accredited physical therapist program and must pass a licensing exam before they're allowed to practice. Peoople in these medical careers work in a variety of settings: rehabilitation centers, hospitals, nursing facilities, private physician's offices, fitness centers, and some run their own physical therapy practices. Job outlook over the next ten years looks promising for physical therapists (PTs). In 2008, PTs held 185,500 jobs. Most worked in hospitals or doctors' offices. It's safe to say that becoming a physical therapist now is a smart career choice. The Bureau of Labor Statistics expects the employment rate for physical therapists to grow 30 percent over the next seven years - much faster than the national average. Job outlook is made even more promising when one considers the fact that people are living longer, advancements in health care prolong the lives of those with disabilities, and changes in the health insurance industry allow third-party payers to reimburse physical therapists for their services. More people will gain access to physical therapy, thus increasing demand for service. Salaries for physical therapists are competitive. In 2008, physical therapists earned an average of $72,790 per year. Home health care services employed the most PTs and paid the highest salaries at $77,630 on average.

Choosing to become a physical therapist means you will work in a stimulating environment and always be challenged. PTs have to utilize creative techniques and methods of treatment when caring for some of the sicker and more disabled patients. Physical therapists should value communication skills and have the ability to interact well with a variety of people. PTs need to be comfortable interacting with physicians and other health care professionals as well as patients they see every day. Physical therapy is an appropriate career choice for those interested in fitness and creating ways to help improve the physical mobility of others.

Medical Doctor

Becoming a medical doctor means you will be at the top of the ladder of medical field careers. Being a physician requires drive, dedication, and stamina. The best doctors are those that possess technically superior skills combined with a good bedside manner. Being able to diagnose and treat patients requires more than just proficient assessment skills; it necessitates compassion and excellent communication skills.

A doctor's responsibilities not only include diagnosing and treating patients. If a doctor opens his or her own private practice, he or she must have a good head for business. He has to be able to hire a staff that is knowledgeable and personable and will help him grow his practice. A doctor's duties also depend on what specialty he chooses to enter. A family practice doctor will see and treat patients in an office setting. He will prescribe medication and treatments and admit patients to a local hospital or rehabilitation facility. If one chooses to be a surgeon, he will see patients in his office but spend the majority of his time in the operating room in a hospital. Some doctors prefer to work in hospitals all the time - either in research or pathology labs or in the emergency department.

Salaries for medical doctors are usually some of the highest among all types of jobs; however, pay scale depends on years of experience, specialty, and geographic location. Doctors who live and work in and around the larger metropolitan areas make more than those in rural settings. The median annual salary for general practice doctors is $186,044 and upward of $340,000 for specialists like cardiologists and anesthesiologists (bls.gov, 2008). Physicians occupy approximately 650,000 jobs in the United States and work primarily in a private practice/group setting. As the U.S. population grows and ages and medical technologies continue to advance, doctors will continue to be a much needed commodity. The BLS estimates that the physician profession will grow faster than the national average for other jobs in the coming years. That's one thing about being a physician: your skills will always be needed. Unfortunately, people will always be sick or hurt; they will always need the services a doctor provides. If you are willing to move to a rural or underserved area, you will be in even greater demand. If hands-on patient care is not what you desire as a physician, doing research or working as a pathologist in the laboratory setting may be more attractive. Whatever your medical interests, if you are open-minded and flexible, securing employment should never be a concern.

Medical Researcher

Do you enjoy puzzles? Did you have fun swabbing petri dishes with germ-soaked Q-tips, then following a set of clues to determine the offending organism in microbiology? If so, medical research could be the field for you. Medical researchers work in many different settings: in hospitals, medical labs, pharmaceutical companies, biotechnology companies, and universities. Their main focus is to improve life for the rest of us. Thanks to medical researchers, we have numerous vaccines that prevent deadly diseases, a better understanding of disease pathology and how to prevent and avoid fatal illnesses. We live longer, healthier lives thanks to the invention of prostheses and devices like the cardiac pacemaker. Medical researchers have discovered that animals have many illnesses in common with humans. Highly regulated medical research performed on animals (although considered controversial by some) helps both humans and the animals themselves. Medical researchers have used primate hearts to study transplantation and heart disease in humans. These researchers are also the ones who've discovered the beneficial aspects of stem cells (another controversial area) over the last fifteen years. Thanks to years spent in medical laboratories by these inquisitive individuals our lives have been prolonged and enriched.

Most medical researchers hold a PhD in one of the biological sciences; many also hold a medical degree. Those with both better their chances for employment. Anyone currently in an undergraduate program who wishes to become a medical researcher should pursue a degree in biology or one of the other biological sciences. If a researcher interacts medically with a study participant (gives medication, draws blood, etc.), he or she must already be a licensed physician. According to the BLS, medical researchers occupied 109,400 jobs in 2008 (BLS, 2009), the majority of which worked in scientific research and development firms. As with the upper level medical occupations, the BLS estimates that the job outlook for medical researchers over the next ten years is expected to grow faster than that of other jobs. Again, this can be attributed to the fact that we're living longer and will continue to need medical assistance as we age. The BLS also points out that research jobs should be plentiful in coming years because of expanded opportunities in areas such as AIDS research and the growing problem of antibiotic resistance. It is also expected that the federal government will continue its funding of medical research to improve the health of its citizens. Knowing that funding is readily available from the government means increased job security for these researchers. These scientists are protected from problems like economic recessions because they are usually involved in long-term research projects. The BLS (2009) states median salaries for researchers in the medical field were $72,590 with those in scientific research and development earning $79,210. For those who excel in math and science and enjoy the challenge of unearthing new technologies and the intricacies of the human condition, medical research is an exciting field rife with job security.

Radiology Technician

Have you ever had an X-ray? The person who positions you for the X-ray and then takes the actual picture is a radiology technician. These medical professionals are educated and certified in the operation of X-ray machines, computed tomography (CT scans), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and mammography, although technicians need additional training for these last few. Radiology techs play an important role in the medical field. They must obtain clear, accurate images for radiologists (medical doctors who actually interpret the X-rays, CT scans, and MRIs) to examine and make a proper diagnosis. These visual exams allow doctors an inside view of our bodies; it's important that the people taking these pictures know how to take them properly and how to produce the best images possible. Radiology technicians primarily work in hospitals, but many also work in private imaging centers and doctors' offices. Similar to nurses, radiology techs stand on their feet for long periods of time and often have to position or turn patients. Physical stamina is a must for these professionals. It's important for anyone interested in becoming a radiology technician to have good people skills. Having compassion for patients who may be anxious or worried about a health issue is imperative. Many patients are afraid of the big steel machines often used in these tests; this discomfort, compounded by a possible health scare, makes patients feel vulnerable. An understanding radiology tech is helpful in these cases. The radiology technician is often one of the first people patients encounter in the health care setting, so a friendly, outgoing personality is valuable.

As with other health professions, a radiology technician is expected to see continued job growth over the next ten years, growing by 17 percent over the next ten years (BLS, 2010). Radiology technicians occupied 214,700 jobs in 2008, 61 percent of which were in hospitals. The average salary for techs in 2008 was $52,210. Medical and diagnostic labs afforded the highest salaries at $55,210 per year.

Anyone interested in medical field careers that is adept with visual technology and attention to detail would make a promising radiology technician. This field should also appeal to those who enjoy working with people - patients as well as health care professionals. As with other health care professions, this field is challenging and stimulating, often providing learning opportunities on a daily basis. One can begin their career as a general technician then move on to specialized certification in CT scanning, MRI, and/or mammography. One will never be bored working as a radiology tech.

Dental Assistant

Do you realize dental assistants and dental hygienists are not one and the same? They're not. Dental hygienists require more education and training and are responsible for cleaning patients' teeth above and below the gum line. Hygienists play an important role in preventive dental care and hold at least an associate's degree in science. Dental assistants, on the other hand, are not required to have any formal training or education. They often hold just a basic certificate stating they have the necessary skills to sit alongside a dentist while he or she performs dental procedures on patients. Dental assistants hand the dentist needed instruments during dental procedures. The assistant prepares the room by setting up equipment tables, etc., and prepares the patient for the procedure. Assistants are able to make dental impressions and temporary restorations needed by a patient. They help the dentist by applying air, water, or suction to keep the field (mouth) clean and clear during a procedure. Basically, a dental assistant is a dentist's second pair of hands. Being that they work closely with the dentist and assist him or her during procedures many patients consider anxiety-producing, assistants who are reassuring and customer service oriented should have no problem securing employment.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, most people in this medical career obtain their training on the job, although more and more community colleges and trade schools are offering training programs twelve months in duration. If an assistant wishes to perform more technical functions or procedures like X-rays, he or she may have to obtain special licensing or certification. Requirements vary from state to state. Dental assistants occupied approximately 300,000 jobs in 2008, 93 percent of which were in dental offices (2010). The BLS predicts the job outlook for dental assistants in coming years to be "excellent.” This is due to a number of factors, some of which include losing older dentists to attrition who will be replaced by younger dentists who are more likely to employ dental assistants, the push toward preventive dental health, better retention of natural teeth in the aging population, and increased work load for dentists, who will place more responsibility on assistants to perform routine tasks, thus liberating the dentist to focus on the more complicated procedures. The average salary for a dental assistant in 2008 was $32,380 (BLS, 2010). The more training and/or certification an assistant has, the better compensation he or she can expect.


Thanks to the aging population of the United States, the need for qualified people in this medical field career has grown in the past several years. "According to the National Association of Chain Drug Stores, the number of prescriptions filled increased from 1.9 million in 1992 to more than 3.1 million in 2002 (60 percent increase in over 10 years)” (quoted by American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy). Better qualified pharmacists are needed to fill so many prescriptions! Pharmacists have become more active participants in the health and welfare of patients. Pharmacists are a supportive resource to both patient and physician. They help educate people about their medications and how to take them properly. Licensed pharmacists work in drug stores, hospitals, Internet and mail order pharmacies, pharmaceutical companies, and the federal government. Pharmacists occupied approximately 270,000 jobs in 2008 (BLS, 2009), 65 percent of which were in retail pharmacy positions.

If you're interested in becoming a pharmacist, be prepared to spend at least six years in school. The minimum degree required to practice as a pharmacist in the United States is the Pharm.D. (Doctorate of Pharmacy). A bachelor's degree in pharmacy is no longer given. Pharm.D. programs are four years in duration and require two years of specific professional study before admission. Coursework is weighted in math and science. Pharmacists go on to complete a one- or two-year residency or internship, which usually requires a research project to graduate from the program. After a student obtains a Pharm.D., he or she must sit for a series of exams to be licensed - a requirement for practice in all 50 states. As with other health care professions, it helps a pharmacist to be people oriented, helpful, and compassionate. Pharmacists spend a lot of time answering questions and educating the general public about medications that often produce many side effects; it behooves them to be patient and client focused.

The BLS predicts a positive job outlook for pharmacists in the coming years, forecasting a 17 percent growth rate in the next ten years. The increasing elderly population and their need for medications as well as the increasing number of people with prescription benefits are just two of the reasons to support this prediction. The average salary for pharmacists in 2008 was $106,410, the majority of which worked in retail chain drug stores.

Becoming a pharmacist is a smart career choice for anyone interested in science and helping people live longer, healthier lives. Innovations in the pharmaceutical industry will continue and there will always be a need for competent pharmacists.

X-ray Technician

X-ray technicians (also called radiology technicians) are specifically trained in medical imaging. X-ray techs focus mainly on taking clear and accurate X-ray films that help doctors (radiologists) diagnose fractures, illness, broken bones, and tumors. These technicians explain the X-ray procedure to patients, position the equipment properly to get the correct picture as requested by the physician, then take and develop the X-ray film. X-ray techs must be friendly, reassuring individuals who get along well with people. Patients are often anxious and fearful when having an X-ray performed. An X-ray technician must be understanding and compassionate. They also have to pay attention to details and follow a physician's order to the letter. The X-ray tech is part of a team that works to heal patients and improve their well-being. Getting an optimum picture of a person's internal structures helps the physicians see what's actually going on inside a patient. The physician is then able to provide the best possible medical treatment for that person.

One doesn't necessarily have to attend college to become an X-ray technician, although the majority of techs hold an associate's degree (BLS, 2010). Many are trained in trade schools or vocational programs, and some receive certificates to practice. The certificate programs last approximately two years. Most states require X-ray technicians to be licensed, but requirements vary from state to state. The purpose of licensure is to protect the public and ensure that techs know how to properly operate radiologic equipment. According to the BLS Web site, X-ray techs occupied approximately 215,000 jobs in 2008, 61 percent of which were in hospitals. Other work environments for X-ray technicians include private doctors' offices and diagnostic imaging clinics. The BLS anticipates a 17 percent growth rate for X-ray technician jobs over the next ten years. Most health care jobs fall into this category - growing faster than that of all other jobs. Our nation's population is aging and will require more diagnostic tests like X-rays. It's also a good idea for X-ray technicians to further their education and become certified in CT and MRI scanning. These forms of imaging require a slightly different knowledge base, but expanding one's skill set makes one more marketable and attractive to those who hire X-ray technicians. The BLS notes that the average annual income for X-ray techs in 2008 was around $52,000. The techs that earned the most worked in the medical and diagnostic laboratory setting. For anyone who doesn't relish the thought of spending years in school yet wants the excitement of being a member of the medical profession, becoming an X-ray technician is a rewarding option.

Last Updated: 05/21/2014

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