You hear it all the time: if you want a secure job, go into healthcare. This statement is becoming increasingly relevant as we look to the future of the industry. People are living longer today, and medical demands are on the rise. According to the United Nations projections, the 60 and older population is expected to double by 2050 worldwide, from 841 million to more than 2 billion. This will mean a significant increase in the demand for traditional medical positions, such as physicians, nurses, physical therapists, and surgeons. But emerging technologies in areas such as robotics, genetic research, and end-of-life care will play vital roles in the future of healthcare.
Why is Healthcare Becoming a Top Career Field?
According to federal projections, there will be four million healthcare jobs by 2026, making it the largest industry in the U.S. This forecast is important because:
- The projected growth rate for healthcare exceeds that of every other U.S. industry.
- The new healthcare jobs will account for one-third of all jobs created in the U.S.
Fastest-Growing Healthcare Careers
Healthcare support occupations, such as administrators, physical therapists, and technical positions will contribute significantly to the increase in healthcare jobs. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), some of the more traditional jobs expected to grow at a particularly fast rate include:
- Home health aides (47 percent)
- Personal care aides (39 percent)
- Physician assistants (37 percent)
- Nurse practitioners (36 percent)
- Physical therapist assistants (31 percent)
Hottest Jobs in Traditional Healthcare
Not surprisingly, nurses are in huge demand, including nurse practitioners (called the “#1 top healthcare job” by U.S. News and World Report), registered nurses, and the hot trend of traveling nurses. In fact, in 2021, travel nursing revenue tripled to an estimated $11.8 billion, up from $3.9 billion in 2015, according to Staffing Industry Analysts.
What are the Hottest Jobs in Emerging Healthcare?
If the traditional professions don’t interest you, the healthcare field still has a lot to offer. The future will be about more than just doctors and nurses. Healthcare is innovating with a whole range of new technologies. From electronic records to robotic surgeries and custom organ design, the scope of up-and-coming healthcare professions is rapidly evolving. This translates to interesting new jobs, requiring a host of innovative skill sets in areas such as digital and STEM. Here are a few professions of the future you should explore now.
Custom Organ Designer
With donor rates dropping for the first time in over a decade, waiting lists for organs are much longer. In the U.S. alone, more than 120,000 people are waiting for organs, with a name added to the list every 10 minutes and more than 20 patients dying each day. Explosive advances in technology include 3D printing, which is entering operating theaters across the world. The technology will soon alleviate the shortages and be as common as a stethoscope. 3D printing is already used for the manufacture of dental implants, hearing devices, and prosthetics. Because the technology enables the printing of very complex structures, the future will see bioprinting of live tissue and transplantable organs. These organs will likely be printed using the patient’s own cells, in order to decrease organ rejection, a common issue with transplants.
As people live longer, they have more time to plan their final years and get their affairs in order. That's where an end-of-life therapist comes in. They work with people to help them prepare for final life stages. Issues discussed may include how to ensure the dying process is smooth and painless, how to best prepare emotionally for this phase, and the possible legal issues that need to be addressed. End-of-life therapists also work with clients' families on similar issues.
Practitioners often have backgrounds in fields like social work, palliative care, education, and psychology. These therapists will also be trained to discuss sensitive information with compassion.
Genetic counselors focus on inherited conditions, such as genetic disorders and birth defects. They're trained to discuss sensitive, emotional information. For example, if genetic testing shows that you have the breast cancer gene, should you have a double mastectomy or choose alternative measures? Which genetic tests, if any, should you perform on your unborn child? Genetic counselors can help you sort out these issues.
Although genetic counseling has been around since the late 1970’s, the increase in the sophistication and complexity of genetic tests—and the variety available—will help identify unique genetic markers to predict potential conditions. This will boost the demand for more professionals in the field.
For those who enjoy working with statistics and science, a career in bioinformatics might be the perfect fit. Using dynamic simulation methods, mathematical models, and sophisticated software, bioinformaticians gather and analyze information from pharmaceutical developments, genetics, and population biology. A bioinformatician may design 3D models of protein and DNA sequences, design new clinical drug trials, or program population growth models. They also play a role in the development of vaccines.
The future of surgery will see tiny robots entering a patient’s body through small incisions to fix or remove whatever the surgeon instructs them to do. These robots and other robotic tools are designed by medical roboticists to assist physicians and surgeons. In addition to surgeries, robots can diagnose diseases. Patients can swallow them to have their organs photographed, and neurosurgical robots can even enter the skull to perform procedures on the brain.
In 2001, a surgeon based in the U.S. operated on a patient in Japan. This was considered the first successful attempt at telesurgery—procedures that are performed on patients remotely.
Although still in its infancy, telesurgery is becoming more technically and economically feasible. Telesurgeons can operate on injured soldiers near battlefields, for example, or astronauts in space. Telesurgery is also valuable for those living in rural areas or developing countries.
Electronic Health Records (EHRs) are quickly becoming the norm for gathering patient information. However, digital record keeping is time-consuming for physicians and not necessarily in their skill set. Hence the need for a medical scribe. This assistant interviews the patient, conducts research about their symptoms, and enters all relevant data before the physician sees the patient. The scribe is also present in the exam room to capture the details of the visit and any needed follow-up.
Medical scribes must know medical terminology and have an understanding of basic clinical procedures. Because the position provides an intimate look into the medical field and offers the chance to collaborate with physicians, some medical schools in the U.S. are suggesting future students work as medical scribes to learn how to interview patients.
High School is a Great Time to Start Planning
In addition to college majors, many leading universities now offer online courses for motivated high school students. For instance, Wake Forest University offers a Pre-College Online Program with a course in medicine, plus sports medicine, cancer medicine, and women’s medicine. University of Rochester has a similar program, with a course in biomedical engineering, as well as healthcare. Georgetown University offers a Pre-College Online Program with a course in medical research. Students and parents find advantages in these offerings. These programs allow high school students to see if a subject is right for them and provide vital groundwork to give them a competitive advantage when they start applying for colleges.