May 14, 2020 · 8 min read

Hottest Healthcare Careers for 2020 and Beyond

Some jobs in the allied health space are taking off faster than others.

sheila cain

By Sheila Cain, All Star Editor/Writer

female healthcare worker looks out window
healthcare worker with mask look out window

While the demand for some jobs fluctuates with the state of the economy, careers in healthcare have typically held steady. People will consistently need the attention of healthcare professionals, no matter how healthy or anemic the stock market may be. In recently years, however, the need for healthcare providers across the board has grown; fueled by an aging population and their greater demand for healthcare services.

And it doesn’t appear that growth will be slowing anytime soon. According to a recent report by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, jobs in the healthcare sector make up a majority of the 20 fastest growing occupations, and the employment of healthcare occupations is expected to add about 1.9 million new jobs between 2018 and 2028; an average growth rate of 14%.

“[One of the] factors affecting the need for healthcare workers is that the Baby Boomers are reaching retirement age,” says Anita C. Hazelwood, Ed.D, RHIA, FAHIMA, a professor and Allied Health Department head in the College of Nursing and Allied Health Professions at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette and a member of the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA).  “This is not just a problem with the nursing profession and with physicians; all healthcare professions are affected. Educational programs are not able to supply enough graduates to meet the demands of these professions.”

Some jobs are expected to grow even further. Allied health fields such as occupational therapists, physical therapy assistants, and speech-language pathologists are poised to grow by 20% or more. These and some other fast-growing allied health careers typically require an associate’s or bachelor’s degree, but the salary payoff can be worth it. Some jobs, like a physician assistant, pay upwards of six figures.

As you evaluate career and education paths, check out these and other allied health occupations that are on the rise:


Occupational Therapy Assistant

young woman assists elderly woman at home

An occupational therapy assistant works with occupational therapists to help their clients recover activities of daily living—such as getting dressed and working—following an accident, illness, or other debilitating issue. These assistants usually work in offices, hospitals and nursing homes. The BLS forecasts a whopping 31% growth in this field over the next several years.

Education and licensing requirements:

Assistants need an associate’s degree from an accredited occupational therapy assistant program. These programs generally require two years of full-time study and include instruction in subjects such as psychology, biology, and pediatric health.

All states regulate the practice of occupational therapy assistants, with most requiring licensure. Licensure typically requires the completion of an accredited occupational therapy assistant education program, completion of all fieldwork requirements, and passage of the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT) exam. Both occupational therapy assistants and aides need certifications in cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and basic life support (BLS) before practicing.

Online learning options:

Because of the amount of clinical work necessary to earn the associate’s degree, a fully online experience is not an option. Some classes, such as medical science, anatomy, and physiology can be taken online; while classes such as natural science, occupational therapy protocol, and professional behavior must be taken on campus.

Salary outlook:

The average annual wage for an OT assistant is around $61,000. Aides earn about half that, but their educational requirements are fewer; typically a high school diploma or equivalent, plus minimal (a few days to a few weeks) on-the-job training. OT aides’ responsibilities are also limited. They can provide support to OT assistants, but cannot administer treatment.


Physical Therapy Assistant

A physical therapy assistant is often confused with an occupational therapy assistant, but the two jobs have significant differences. While both fields involve rehabilitating clients following illness or injury, physical therapy focuses on improving movement of the human body, while occupational therapy is concerned with helping a client better perform activities of daily living.

The job outlook for those who work alongside and under the direction of a physical therapist is strong: the BLS reports an expected 26% increase in employment of PT assistants this decade, mostly in response to the healthcare needs of an aging population and individuals with chronic conditions such as diabetes and obesity. 

Education and licensing requirements:

The path to becoming a PT Assistant requires an associate’s degree from an accredited program (typically around two years), plus a license or certification. Job duties include treating patients through massage, exercise, gait and balance training, and other therapeutic interventions.

A PT aide, on the other hand, performs less hand-on work and more clerical and assisting duties, and requires less training; typically a high school diploma or equivalent. They’re also required to complete on-the-job training ranging from one week to one month.

Online learning options:

Most Physical Therapist Assistant associate’s degree programs offer some classes online, but will require classroom attendance for clinical care and lab courses.

Salary outlook:

The median annual wage for a PT Assistant is upwards of $58,000 per year. Aides earn an average salary of $27,000.


Health Information Manager

male technician on tablet in steel and glass server room

If data and technology is your jam, a career in Health Information Management (HIM) may be for you. A Health Information Manager is adept in the business aspects of healthcare and typically oversees health information systems to ensure that they meet medical, legal and ethical standards. These professionals manage, analyze and secure patients’ health-related data in both paper and electronic form.

“As electronic health records become universally used, health information professionals will be more and more in demand,” says Hazelwood.

Education and licensing requirements:

An associate’s degree in Health Information Management is a good first step to a career in the HIM field, especially if you’re working while going to school. This two-year degree can prepare you for work as a health information technician, but a bachelor’s of science degree will be required to become a manager.

Online learning options:

Both degrees can be completed 100% online.

If you already have a bachelor’s degree in a related healthcare field or you have experience in healthcare, you may also enter the HIM field by obtaining a master’s degree. (The admissions department at schools offering these degrees can help you determine if you fit their requirements.) A master’s program can help you develop your leadership skills and boost your knowledge of the systems used to gather healthcare data. A manager will also likely be required to pursue additional certification as a Registered Health Information Administrator (RHIA), which is administered by AHIMA.

Salary outlook:

Annual pay for a Health Information Manager is around $100,000.

The BLS predicts that the country’s aging population will increasingly require the skills of professionals in the health information management field to organize older generations’ health information data and their associated claims for reimbursement from insurance companies.


Physician Assistant

A physician assistant, or PA, is a medical professional who operates under a doctor’s supervision. In many cases, a PA’s duties mirror those of a doctor, with a couple major differences: PAs are not licensed to perform surgery (although they may assist doctors in surgical procedures.) Another difference: a doctor works autonomously, while a PA works under the direction and supervision of a physician or group of physicians.

These differences aside, the responsibilities of a PA include conducting patient exams, consulting with patients on their healthcare plans, developing treatment plans, and even performing procedures such as wound suture. Depending on state requirements, some PAs can also prescribe medication.

More than half of all physician assistants work in primary care medicine. Most common places of employment are private practice offices or clinics, hospitals, public health clinics, schools, prisons, or home health care agencies.

Education and licensing requirements:

Though it’s not as rigorous as becoming a Medical Doctor, the road to becoming a physician assistant is long. PAs typically need a master’s degree from an accredited program. Earning that degree usually takes at least two years of full-time postgraduate study.

All states require physician assistants to be licensed. Graduate school applicants typically already have experience as a registered nurse (RN), emergency medical technician (EMT),  or paramedic. A PA program usually takes at least two years of full-time study under an accredited program; almost all of which offer a master’s degree upon completion.

Curriculum includes classroom and laboratory instruction in subjects such as pathology, human anatomy, physiology, clinical medicine, pharmacology, physical diagnosis, and medical ethics. The programs also include supervised clinical training in several areas, including family medicine, internal medicine, emergency medicine, and pediatrics.

Online learning options:

Many programs offer online options for many classes, but all will require the addition of hands-on, practical experience in a healthcare environment.

Salary outlook:

The hard work pays off. The median salary of a PA is upwards of $112,000.


Speech-Language Pathologist

female speech therapist with child patient feeling throat

The aging Baby Boomer population, again, is a factor in the strong predicted growth of careers in the Speech-Language Pathologist field. As this sector of the population gets older, there will be more instances of health conditions such as strokes and dementia that can cause speech and language impairments. According to the BLS, employment of Speech-Language Pathologists is expected to grow 27% this decade.

Education and learning options:

A master’s degree is required for Speech-Language Pathologists, who assess, diagnose, treat, and help to prevent communication and swallowing disorders in children and adults. Most states also require that they be licensed.

A bachelor’s degree in a related field is required for admission into a speech-language pathology master’s program.

Online learning options:

Many schools offer most components of a Speech-Language Pathologist master’s degree program online, with clinical requirements completed in clinics and doctors’ offices.

Salary outlook:

A Speech-Language Pathologist can expect to earn an average salary of $79,000, according to the BLS.


Cautious Optimism

While no job is recession-proof, most jobs in healthcare come pretty close. That said, changes in the economy may affect some positions as time goes on.

“While the demand for health care professionals, both clinicians and allied health workers, is high, the economic downturn may affect the hiring capacity of financially-burdened health care facilities,” says Hazelwood. “Restrictions on surgeries has definitely impacted both physicians and facilities. As employees are laid off or furloughed, their ability to purchase health care insurance or even afford co-payments, deductibles, and co-insurance payments will be reduced and the demand for healthcare services may be reduced.”

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