Health Science Career Cluster Overview
The health science field has become one of the largest of the career clusters. Approximately 14 million people were employed in some aspect of the U.S. health care system in 2006, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Health care workers are employed as physicians, nurses, nursing aides, technicians, technologists, therapists, and in a host of other occupations.
The health care industry continues to develop at a rapid rate with the discoveries of new drugs, treatments, and cures. Modern technologies such as computers and digital imaging are being used by the medical community to perform tests, compile data, diagnose illnesses, and train professionals. Many surgeries are no longer performed with a scalpel, but with lasers. Disease, illness, and injury are now being treated and cured so successfully that the general population is living much longer and the number of elderly is increasing.
During the past two decades, there has been an increasing interest in alternative medicine, which refers to such practices as massage therapy, herbal remedies, homeopathy, acupuncture, reflexology, and meditation. Although once frowned upon by the traditional medical community, more and more physicians and hospitals are embracing alternative medicine and finding new ways to combine old and new approaches to healing.
The structure of the health science cluster is enormously varied. There are many different jobs to choose from and many different facilities in which to work. While some careers, such as physicians and nurse practitioners, require many years of study and practice, there are many medical technician careers that offer high pay and great opportunities with a relatively short training period (two years or less). Because of the increasing demand for quality health care services, medical facilities employ technicians to perform many of the tasks that doctors, nurses, and other professionals once performed.
Health Science Career Pathways
The five career pathways in the health science field are biotechnology research and development, diagnostic services, health informatics, support services, and therapeutic services.
Biotechnology Research and Development Career Path
The people who work in this pathway develop new treatments, technology, and medications that improve human health. Work in this field is highly specialized, and most entry-level positions require a master’s or, in some cases, a doctoral degree. Examples of careers in biotechnology research and development are biochemists, microbiologists, pharmacists, research assistants, and toxicologists.
Diagnostic Services Career Path
Careers in diagnostic services deal with the detection, diagnosis, and treatment of diseases, injuries, and other physical ailments. People who work in this pathway spend much of their time collecting samples from, performing tests on, and analyzing data about patients. They then either pass this information on to other health care professionals or speak with the patient about the results. Examples of careers in this pathway include cardiovascular technologists, cytotechnologists, and X-ray technologists.
Health Informatics Career Path
The health informatics pathway deals with the management of information within health care facilities and systems. This information can range from the medical data on patient charts to the billing systems that medical insurance companies use. A career in health informatics could also entail installing and maintaining the computer systems used by a medical office or nursing unit. Examples of careers in health informatics include database specialists, medical ethicists, medical librarians, medical record technicians, and medical transcriptionists.
Support Services Career Path
Support services include all of the careers that maintain a clean, safe, and healing environment for patients and medical personnel. From cleaning and repairing medical equipment to managing hospital cafeterias, support service workers are the lifeblood of any health science setting. Jobs in support services include biomedical equipment technicians, janitors and cleaners, dietitians, food service workers, and industrial safety and health technicians.
Therapeutic Services Career Path
This pathway is the one most commonly associated with health science. People who work in therapeutic services provide direct care, including emergency care, rehabilitation therapy, surgery, and counseling services. Examples of careers in therapeutic services include athletic trainers, dentists, massage therapists, medical assistants, physicians, psychologists, registered nurses, and speech-language pathologists.
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Exploring Health Science Careers
To work in this field you need a solid foundation in math and science. Most careers in this area require you to be familiar with human anatomy and physiology, so be sure to take these courses in high school or college. Good written and communication skills are also important, whether you are counseling a patient or working through a billing issue with an insurance company. Course work in English, speech, and debate will help in this regard. Since people in the health sciences are often faced with life-and-death decisions, a strong understanding of ethics and law is also important.
There are many opportunities in health sciences for people with a two-year associate’s degree. However, the key to advancement in this field is more education and training. Physicians, for example, who are among the highest-paid workers in the job market, go through a minimum of eight to 10 years of additional schooling after high school. Nurses can find work after completing a one- or two-year training program, but the four-year bachelor of science degree in nursing (B.S.N.) is becoming the standard for most registered nurses who wish to advance in the field. Many workers enter the field as a technician and gain practical experience as they complete an advanced degree. In short, there are many paths of entry into the health science field. Read about the various careers and think about which option makes the most sense for you.
Volunteering is a great way to discover more about the health sciences. Most hospitals and nursing homes offer volunteer programs that will allow you to spend time with patients and residents. The health science field is above all a people-oriented profession, so take advantage of opportunities to work on your speaking, listening, and teamwork skills, as these come into play on a daily basis in the health science field.
Health Science Careers Outlook
According to U.S. Department of Labor (USDL), employment in the health science cluster is projected to increase much faster than the average over the next 10 years. The USDL also says that more than half of the 10 occupations projected to grow the fastest are concentrated in the health sciences. Medical assistants, physician assistants, home health aides, medical record and health information technicians, and physical therapist aides and physical therapist assistants are among the fastest growing careers. Most of these jobs require fewer than four years of college.
The employment outlook for physicians is expected to be about as fast as the average. More doctors will be needed because the population is both growing and aging. Also, many new technological improvements require the expertise of greater numbers of medical specialists. However, the need for primary care providers will be far greater than the need for medical specialists. Job prospects will be best in internal medicine, family practice, geriatrics, and preventive medicine.
The employment outlook for all kinds of nurses is very favorable. Many hospitals do not have enough nurses; the demand is bigger than the supply. Also, as health care services expand, even more nurses will be needed. Currently, there are about 2.3 million registered nurses. The U.S. Department of Labor projects the occupation of registered nurse to be one of the top 25 occupations with fastest growth, high pay, and low unemployment.
One of the fastest growing job categories in the industry is home health care. Home health care workers include nurses, physical therapists, and consultants, as well as lower-paid workers who cook for, clean, bathe, and dress home-bound patients, such as the elderly and disabled.
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