While many people have dealt with job loss, financial hardship and other challenges in recent years, some bright spots do exist for the nation’s job seekers.
Prospects are excellent for many healthcare jobs, for instance. More specifically, opportunities in the following six allied-health careers -- which require two or fewer years of education or training to get started -- are expected to grow -- in some cases significantly -- over the next several years, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
1. Dental Assistant
Employment for dental assistants is expected to increase 31 percent -- much faster than the average for all occupations in the country -- between 2010 and 2020, according to the BLS. Factors fueling the high demand for dental assistants include the greater retention of natural teeth by the aging baby boom generation, an increased focus on preventive dental care and the trend of dentists delegating routine tasks to assistants, according to the BLS.
The median dental assistant salary was $33,470 in 2010, according to the BLS.
Many dental assistants -- who sterilize and set up equipment, prepare patients for treatment and keep records -- learn their skills on the job, although an increasing number are trained in one-year dental assisting programs. Some states require licensure or certification.
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2. Medical Assistant
Employment of medical assistants is expected to increase 31 percent between 2010 and 2020, according to the BLS. Medical assistants perform administrative and clinical tasks -- such as taking medical histories and recording patients’ vital signs -- to keep the offices of physicians and other healthcare providers running smoothly. The rapid job growth is attributable to the increasing number of healthcare facilities that need more support personnel, and to the fact that medical assistants work mostly in primary care -- a growing sector of the healthcare industry.
According to the BLS, the median medical assistant salary was $28,860 in 2010.
Many medical assistants complete one- or two-year educational programs, although some are trained on the job. Formal training is generally preferred, but not required, by employers.
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3. Pharmacy Technician
Employment of pharmacy technicians -- who prepare medication under the direction of a pharmacist, most often in retail settings and hospitals -- is expected to grow 32 percent between 2010 and 2020, according to the BLS. The increasing number of prescription drugs available and the growth and aging of the population are spurring the high demand for pharmacy techs.
The median pharmacy technician salary was $28,400 in 2010, according to the BLS.
There is no national training standard for pharm techs, but employers may prefer applicants who have formal training or voluntary certification. Education programs generally range from six months to two years, and include classroom and laboratory instruction.
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4. Medical Records and Health Information Technician
Since medical records and health information technicians don’t provide hands-on patient care, they are an exception among allied-health jobs. Their skills in compiling, processing and maintaining patient medical records -- while adhering to strict ethical, legal and regulatory requirements -- are valued by employers.
Employment of medical records and health information technicians is expected to increase 21 percent between 2010 and 2020. The growth in the use of electronic health records, as well as in the number of medical tests, treatments and procedures performed are fueling demand.
The BLS lists the median medical records and health information technician salary at $32,350 in 2010. Wages are generally higher for those employed in hospitals than in physicians’ offices.
Entry-level medical records and health information technicians usually have an associate’s degree. Many employers prefer applicants with the Registered Health Information Technician (RHIT) credential, which requires graduation from an accredited program and successful completion of an exam administered by the American Health Information Management Association.
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5. Medical and Clinical Laboratory Technician
Excellent job opportunities are expected for clinical laboratory technicians (also known as medical technicians), as the volume of lab tests increases. A 13 percent growth in employment of clinical laboratory workers is expected between 2010 and 2020, according to the BLS. Hospitals employ more than half of all clinical laboratory techs, although opportunities in physicians’ offices and in medical and diagnostic laboratories are growing.
The median clinical laboratory technician salary was $36,280 in 2010, according to the BLS.
Clinical laboratory techs generally earn an associate’s degree or a certificate from a hospital, vocational or technical school, or the Armed Forces.
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Phlebotomists are clinical laboratory technicians who specialize in drawing blood. Like all clinical laboratory techs, the job outlook for phlebotomists is strong. Most phlebotomist jobs are available in hospital or clinic laboratories.
According to the American Society for Clinical Pathology’s 2010 Wage Survey of US Clinical Laboratories, the median annual phlebotomist salary was $28,080.
Typically, phlebotomists can start their careers after a training program that lasts four months to a year, although two-year associate’s-degree programs are also available.
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Learn more about healthcare careers.