“To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived; that is to have succeeded.”
—Ralph Waldo Emerson
Like every industry, healthcare is experiencing a radical makeover. Advanced research, provider, administrative initiatives are replacing decades-old practices. Everyone agrees on goals – improved efficiency, affordability, and care – but methodology remains debated. How do we address the challenges of 21st century healthcare in a way that preserves what works and changes what doesn’t?
The challenges are real. The U.S. spends over $3.4 trillion a year on healthcare. That accounts for about 18% of total GDP and equals $10,000 a person, more than any other country in the world and nine times the average cost in 1960, adjusted for inflation. (Of course, plenty of people don’t spend $10,000 a year on healthcare, which is part of the problem.) Another long-term problem: provider shortages. The Association of American Medical Colleges estimates that shortages for primary care physicians will reach between 7,300 and 43,100 by 2030. The shortfall for specialists could be 33,500 to 61,800. At the same time, quality of care is a subject of heated debate. The United States ranks 31st in the world in life expectancy – behind Greece, Slovenia, and Chile – 29th in infant mortality. In a study of of 11 developed nations’s healthcare systems’ performance, the U.S. ranked last.
Healthcare and hospital professionals are well aware of the data, and government policy and industry overhauls offer potential solutions. But education is perhaps the most important factor for both the immediate and long-term future. Change can come from above, but real change, lasting change, comes from below, at the individual level. And for individuals to excel, they need quality training.
Why Study Healthcare or Nursing?
There are several potential answers, some of which depend on what kind of degree and career path you want to pursue.
- Healthcare is a vocation. Whether you’re enrolled in a nursing or a healthcare administration program, it helps to know that your degree will make a difference in people’s lives. The industry has its challenges, but it’s a deeply rewarding, fulfilling experience on a day-to-day basis, and you have the opportunity to play your part in the effort to reform. As a healthcare professional in IT or hospital administration, you’ll help manage all operations, from provider services to talent acquisition, research and development, data analytics, budgeting, organizational management, long-term strategy, and EMR implementation. As a nurse practitioner, you’ll care for myriad patients with myriad needs – demanding but inspiring. Healthcare offers a clear purpose.
- Healthcare degrees are customizable. This is especially important for advanced degrees, which allow students to tailor the curriculum through electives or concentrations. Undergraduate programs may not offer specific concentrations (though there are individual nursing tracks), but electives should be available, and many programs offer minors in complementary subjects. Regardless, both nursing and healthcare degrees provide broad-based, experiential course work that prepare students for immediate employment and a clear career path.
- Healthcare degrees have wide appeal. Of course, not all healthcare graduates work at healthcare facilities. Public health experts work in think tanks, policy centers, nonprofits, and the government. Healthcare analysts and informatics professionals work in IT, pharmaceuticals, insurance, and across the private sector. Nurses (depending on specialty) work in schools, wellness centers, and dozens more areas, such as health advisory groups and dietary centers. In short, healthcare graduates have more freedom and flexibility than you might expect.
Job Prospects and Salaries for Nurses and Healthcare Workers
Job security is another benefit for healthcare workers. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, all healthcare occupations are projected to grow 18% over the next decade, nearly three times the national average and resulting in 2.4 million new jobs (more than any other occupation).
When we examine the data closer, the prospects are even better. The median annual salary for nurse practitioners, nurse anesthetists, and nurse midwives (also called advanced practice registered nurses) is $107,460, with occupations predicted to grow 31% over the next decade, in large part because of the physician shortfall. On the administrative side, medical and health service manager occupations will grow 20%, adding 72,000 new jobs with a median annual salary of $96,540.
Types of Jobs for Nurses and Healthcare Workers
Now let’s look at specific job titles.
As mentioned, healthcare graduates pursue a range of careers, and the degree level will affect the role. To give a snapshot, these are few potential jobs ranging from entry-level to senior-level.
- Dietitian or Nutritionist: Uses food and nutrition expertise to promote health and manage disease for individuals and organizations
- Median Annual Salary: $58,920
- Registered Nurse: RNs provide and coordinate care for patients, as well as offer actionable health education and emotional support
- Median Annual Salary: $68,450
- Occupational Therapist: Treat injured, ill, or disabled patients through a variety of therapeutic exercises to help regain everyday physical skills
- Median Annual Salary: $81,910
- Advanced Practice Registered Nurse: Coordinate patient care and may provide primary and specialty care, depending on the employee’s state
- Median Annual Salary: $107,460
Healthcare Administration and Management
- Healthcare EDI Analyst: Provides IT support for healthcare electronic data interchange applications, including issues with enrollment, claims, and payments
- Median Annual Salary: $49,355
- Healthcare Benefits Systems Analyst: Implements and maintains benefits system for managed care and provider data
- Median Annual Salary: $53,699
- Clinical Informatics Coordinator: Ensures accuracy, efficiency, and optimal utilization of medical record information systems
- Median Annual Salary: $83,838
- Medical and Health Services Manager: Plan, direct, and coordinate medical and health services, including for individual hospital branches, clinical area or departments, or whole hospital systems
- Median Annual Salary: $96,540
- Health Informatics Director: Oversees all aspects of a system’s health information data, including strategy for future software iterations
- Median Annual Salary: $150,000
Undergraduate Degrees in Healthcare and Nursing
At the undergraduate level, one of the most popular programs for current nurses is the RN to BSN, designed for registered nurses who want to advance their careers. For students interested in pursuing a career in healthcare administration, the bachelor’s in Health Informatics is a good start.
Not sure which undergraduate nursing degree to pursue? Check out our in-depth guide to choosing a nursing degree.
Graduates Degrees in Healthcare and Nursing
If you’re interested in becoming a nurse practitioner, or perhaps specializing in a particular area of medicine, the master’s in Nursing is among the most broad-based, in-depth degrees available. Another option is the master’s in Substance Abuse Counseling, which combines course work in social work, healthcare, addiction studies, and more.
At the organizational level, a master’s in Healthcare Administration prepares graduates for senior-level roles in hospital systems. If you’re more interested in policy, the master’s in Public Health is highly respected track that can lead to careers in advocacy, nonprofits, and government, among other areas.
Popular Online Schools Offering Nursing or Health Care Degrees
- University of Maryland University College
- Liberty University
- American Public University System
- University of Phoenix
- Western Governor’s University
- University of Massachusetts Online
- Walden University
Find the Right Health Care Degree
Peruse the most popular online health care and nursing programs as well as our rankings of the best health care schools above.
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