Guide to Health Science Careers
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The term “health science” encompasses a wide range of disciplines related to healthcare delivery at the intersection of engineering, science, math, and technology. Health sciences subfields include bioinformatics, clinical research, and health information technology.
According to the Bureau for Labor Statistics, jobs in healthcare are projected to grow 18 percent from 2016 to 2026—higher than the average predicted job growth for all occupations during that same period. The BLS explains that this rise in demand is due to aging Baby Boomers living longer and seeking more services, and because of increased access to healthcare coverage for the general population in the United States. Because of the growing need for healthcare workers in the upcoming decade, there’s expected to be plenty of opportunities for employees with varying degrees of formal education.
These ten careers in health sciences meet the following criteria:
- It’s predicted to experience a growth in openings of seven percent or more between 2016 and 2026, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook.
- It pays more than the median annual salary of all U.S. occupations ($37,050). (Please note that two occupations, pharmacy technician and phlebotomists, did not meet this qualification, but each occupation’s expected growth in coming years merited its inclusion on this list.)
Diagnostic Medical Sonographers
Diagnostic sonographers, also referred to as ultrasound technicians, work closely with physicians and surgeons, taking images that help doctors or surgeons to diagnose health conditions or injuries. They might also capture pictures before, during, or after surgery. Diagnostic medical sonographers know how to prepare imaging equipment, and how to use this equipment properly in order to capture the types of images desired by doctors.
Jobs and Pay
Jobs for diagnostic medical sonographers are expected to grow 23 percent in the decade preceding 2026 resulting in 82,900 fresh openings. The median pay for diagnostic medical sonographers in 2016 was $69,650, with those in the lowest ten percent earning less than $28,650, but those in the upper ten percent earning in excess of $99,100.
Associate’s and bachelor’s degree programs are generally available to help students prepare to enter the diagnostic medical sonography field.
- An online bachelor’s degree in diagnostic medical sonography is available through Oregon Tech Online. Please note that this is a degree completion program, meaning that students must already have prior education in the field. Courses for the bachelor’s degree include sonographic pathology, musculoskeletal sonography and obstetrical pathology. The school is accredited through the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities.
Cardiovascular Technologists and Technicians
Cardiovascular technologists and technicians use imaging tools to create vascular pictures of the hearts and the lungs. These pictures are used by doctors to determine the presence of any health conditions. Technologists and technicians also may be able to specialize in cardiac catheterization, which is the threading of a catheter through an artery to the heart, or in performing electrocardiograms of the heart.
Jobs and Pay
Job opportunities for cardiovascular technologists and technicians are projected to increase ten percent in upcoming years (2016-26) creating 60,500 new positions nationwide. The median pay for these health science workers was $55,570, with pay in the lower tenth percentile falling below $28,650 and in the upper tenth percentile, reaching above $89,450.
Associate’s and bachelor’s degrees can be found in the field. Two available programs are briefly described below.
- An associate’s degree in cardiovascular technology is available through Southern Maine Community College. Students learn about medical electronics and instrumentation, applied cardiovascular procedures, and cardiovascular physiology, selecting between an invasive or non-invasive track. The degree is estimated to take three years to complete.
- The University of South Carolina, in Columbia, offers a 128-credit bachelor of science degree in cardiovascular technology. The program includes core education classes as well as in-depth learning in areas like biology and chemistry. Students also complete a cardiovascular training program that is accredited through the Joint Review Committee on Education in Cardiovascular Technology as part of the “major” component of their program.
Medical and Clinical Laboratory Scientists and Technicians
Medical and clinical laboratory scientists and technicians analyze samples that come from the human body, including tissue samples, blood, and urine. Laboratory scientists (formerly called technologists) and technicians may also study different blood samples to see if these can be used in transfusions. They are comfortable with different types of laboratory equipment, including microscopes and cell counters.
Jobs and Pay
The number of openings in the U.S. for medical and clinical laboratory technologists is predicted to grow 13 percent (2016-26), adding 42,700 new jobs. The median pay for technologists in 2016 was $61,070. Those in the lowest ten percent earned less than $41,500, while those in the upper ten percent earned $85,160 or more.
Technicians generally need to have an associate’s degree to enter the field while scientists (technologists) must have a bachelor’s or higher. Two programs are described below.
- Florida State College at Jacksonville offers an associate’s degree in medical laboratory technology that requires 76 credits. The program was created to help students prepare for careers in businesses, clinics, labs, and other settings. Students in the program can explore areas as diverse as cell marker technology, cancer, and the immune system. The program is accredited through the National Accrediting Agency for Clinical Laboratory Sciences.
- At Louisiana State University at Alexandria, students can complete a bachelor’s degree in medical laboratory science completely online. Advanced coursework is offered in subjects such as clinical chemistry, hematology, pathogenic microbiology, and more. Courses run for seven weeks each, and students may be able to complete their degree in as few as 20 months.
Medical Records and Health Information Technicians
Medical records and health information technicians document patient information, noting details such as medical history, symptoms, and test results. They may code this health information for later use, or organize and classify it for certain types of registries. Health information technicians work closely with registered nurses and other healthcare practitioners.
Jobs and Pay
Openings for medical records and health information technicians are expected to grow by 13 percent, adding 27,800 new positions around the country between 2016 and 2026. The median pay for those in the field was $38,040 in 2016. Pay for the lowest ten percent was under $25,070, and pay for the upper ten percent was above $62,840.
A postsecondary non-degree program or an associate’s degree can be helpful for entering the field. Two programs are described below.
- Ashworth College offers an online certificate in electronic medical records, or EMRs. The course of study includes applications and equipment, charting, and insurance and billing. Students are introduced to two cloud-based systems used commonly in the medical field: Practice Fusion® and PracticeSuite®. The college is accredited by the Distance Education Accrediting Commission.
- Rasmussen College offers an associate’s degree in health information technology (HIT). The 18-month program teaches students management of patient information, medical billing and coding, and advanced healthcare technology. Students can complete the program on-campus or opt for a blended choice. The college is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission and the associate’s degree program is further accredited through the Commission on Accreditation for Health Informatics and Information Management Education.
Nuclear Medicine Technologists
Nuclear medicine technologists prepare and administer radioactive drugs. These healthcare professionals monitor imaging equipment, make sure necessary images are created for doctors, and ensure patients respond adequately to the drugs they were given. Nuclear medicine technologists also maintain records about the procedures done, and dispose of any used materials following safety procedures.
Jobs and Pay
The growth in openings for nuclear medical technologists is expected to reach ten percent between 2016 and 2026, resulting in 2,000 new opportunities. Median pay in 2016 for technologists was $74,350. Those in the lowest ten percent earned less than $53,440, and those in the upper ten percent earned more than $101,850.
Associate’s and bachelor’s degrees are available in nuclear medicine technology. Two programs are described below.
- Gateway Community College in New Haven, Connecticut, offers an associate of science degree in medical nuclear technology that includes 22 months of academic and clinical coursework. Students can learn about diagnostic procedures, radiopharmaceuticals, radionuclide therapy, transmission imaging, patient care, and quality control. The program is accredited through the Board of Governors for Higher Education and the Joint Review Committee on Educational Programs in Nuclear Medicine Technology.
- A bachelor’s degree in nuclear medicine is available through the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. UN’s program features general education, a science component, and the nuclear medicine major. Students learn through classroom instruction, mentoring, and clinical experiences that are made available at nearby imaging facilities.
Pharmacy technicians are usually employed in hospitals or retail pharmacies and assist pharmacists in dispensing medications. They may collect patient information regarding health insurance, get prescriptions ready for a pharmacist, or put labels on packages. Pharmacy technicians may also answer the phone or enter information about prescriptions into computer systems.
Jobs and Pay
Jobs for pharmacy techs are expected to grow by 12 percent, adding 47,000 new positions between 2016 and 2026. The median pay for pharmacy technicians was $30,920 in 2016, with those in the lowest ten percent earning less than $21,370. Those in the upper ten percent earned more than $45,710.
Students may be able to find a job with only a high-school diploma, but a postsecondary certificate or an associate’s degree may be helpful. Two pharmacy technician programs are described below.
- Students can complete an online Pharmacy Tech Certificate program at San Francisco State University through the College of Extended Learning. Topics include pharmacy terminology, the reading and interpreting of prescriptions, a look at the top 200 drugs, and more. The program includes an 80-hour clinical externship.
- The associate of applied science degree to become a pharmacy tech available through Stratford University can be taken online, on-campus, or through a blended format. The program comprises 20 classes that total 90 credits. Students can study how to fill daily drug orders, assist patients, help pharmacists in preparing medications, and resolve customer complaints. About two years is required to complete the degree program.
Radiologic and MRI Technologists
Radiologic and MRI technologists complete tasks such as doing X-rays and operating magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machines. They help to prepare patients for procedures and are skilled at imaging the area or areas indicated by a physician. They also know how to shield a patient from unnecessary radiation. They are part of a larger healthcare team, including physicians, who use the images to help determine if any disease or injury exists.
Jobs and Pay
Jobs for radiologic and MRI technologists are expected to grow by 12 percent between 2016 and 2026, adding 30,200 new positions. The median salary for MRI technologists was $68,420, but those in the lowest ten percent made less than $47,960 and those in the upper ten percent earned more than $95,890.
An associate’s degree is generally needed to enter the field, but bachelor’s degrees and graduate certificates are also available. Two postsecondary programs are described below.
- The associate’s degree in radiography from Pima Medical Institute helps students to understand how to operate diagnostic medical imaging tools such as X-ray machines. Students at Pima learn about anatomy, equipment, radiation safety, and examination techniques. The program takes about two years to complete.
- At Rush University in Chicago, students can pursue a bachelor of science in imaging science. Students learn about different imaging types, including computed tomography, MRI, and cardiac-interventional radiography. The program can be completed full- or part-time and either on-campus or online.
Phlebotomists are skilled at drawing blood from patients to be used for donations, specific tests, insurance coverage, research, or transfusions. Phlebotomists know how to find veins in a patient or donor, insert needles, take appropriate amounts of blood, and label vials of blood so that they can be tracked and accurately screened.
Jobs and Pay
Phlebotomists can expect to see job opportunities swell 24 percent with 30,000 new positions created in the decade preceding 2026. The median annual salary for health science workers in this field was $32,710. Individuals in the lowest ten percent earned less than $23,330, and those in the upper ten percent earned more than $46,850.
Typically, a postsecondary diploma or certificate can help individuals to obtain the skills needed to enter the field. Examples of two programs are provided below.
- Southeast Tech in Sioux Falls, Indiana, offers a certificate program in phlebotomy that can be completed in one year. The 30-credit program includes coursework in anatomy and physiology, patient care techniques, and computer essentials. Clinical practices are included in the diploma program.
- Lonestar College in Woodlands, Texas, has developed a phlebotomist certificate program that requires 196 hours of education work and clinical work offered through the school’s Career & Technical Education Department. Students who finish the program may be able to sit for testing offered through the National Center for Competency Testing (NCCT) or American Society of Clinical Pathologists (ASCP).
Respiratory therapists help patients to breathe better, particularly if they are suffering from a condition like asthma, emphysema, or a chronic respiratory issue. The job also may require respiratory therapists to offer emergency care to anyone who is in shock, having a heart attack, or suffering from a life-threatening condition.
Jobs and Pay
Jobs for respiratory therapists are expected to increase by 23 percent between 2016 and 2026, adding 30,400 new positions nationwide. Respiratory therapists earned a median annual pay of $58,670 in 2016. Respiratory therapists in the lowest ten percent earned $42,490, while those in the upper ten percent earned $81,550.
An associate’s degree is generally acceptable for entry into the field, but students can also choose to enroll in a bachelor’s level degree program. Details on one such bachelor’s degree in respiratory therapy program is provided below.
- At Mizzou Online, available through the University of Missouri, students can complete a bachelor’s degree in respiratory therapy. The program is available completely online and covers coursework in adult critical care, clinical ethics, and pulmonary rehabilitation. The University of Missouri is accredited through the Higher Learning Commission.
Surgical technologists help to prepare rooms for surgery by ensuring that equipment is sterile and organized. During surgery, technologists assist doctors by passing tools and equipment to a surgeon carrying out a procedure on a patient.
Jobs and Pay
Jobs for surgical technologists are expected to grow by 12 percent in the decade before 2026, adding 12,600 new jobs in the U.S. Median pay in the field was $45,160. Earners in the lowest ten percent made below $31,720, while those in the upper ten percent earned more than $64,800.
A postsecondary non-degree program can provide a way to enter the field, and there are many undergraduate degrees available as well. Two such programs are detailed below.
- An associate of applied science degree in surgical technology is offered through Berkeley College, which has campus locations in New Jersey and New York. The degree totals 60 credits, and includes coursework in anatomy and physiology, medical terminology, surgical techniques, pharmacology, and anesthesiology. The program is accredited through the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs.
- An online completion program in surgical technology is available through Northern Arizona University. Students should already have an associate’s degree to be accepted into this program. In NAU’s program, students will learn topics in epidemiology, stress, and health promotion, and will be expected to complete a capstone course before graduation.
Other Careers in Health Sciences
While the ten occupations listed above are expected to have ample growth in the next decade, health science is a broad field with a wide array of career opportunities. Other occupations in the multivariate fields of health sciences include:
- Biomedical technologist or technician
- Cardiovascular technologist or technician
- MRI technician
- Neurodiagnostic technician
- Veterinary technologist or technician
- Endoscopy technician
- Speech-language pathology assistant
- Acupuncture assistant
- Anesthesiology assistant
- Dietetic technician
- Home health aide
- Psychiatric technician
- Occupational therapy aide or assistant
- Licensed practical or vocational nurse (LPN or LVN)
- Athletic trainer
For an extensive list of programs to springboard into a career in health sciences, visit the Mayo Clinic School of Health Sciences.