All healthcare jobs are not created equal. Each occupation requires varying amounts of education and liability, and garners different levels of prestige. Listed below are some of the best jobs in healthcare.

  1. Physicians & Surgeons
    Most physicians and surgeons examine, diagnose and treat patients, but others are employed in research. While many physicians are self-employed, some maintain full-time positions in addition to occasional part-time work. Others find a niche instructing. These arrangements allow young physicians or doctors wishing to change environments the opportunity to try new situations. The flexibility and independence also appeal to those approaching retirement.

    The Medical Group Management Association determined that surgeons typically make over $282,000 while practicing doctors are earning around $160,000. Incomes vary by medical specialty as well as the type of organization. Practitioners defend their salaries by pointing out the financial burdens of medical school loans and malpractice insurance. (Looking for the current hot careers? Don't miss 10 Careers With Great Job Prospects.)

    There were approximately 633,000 doctors in 2006. The demand for doctors is expected to increase 17% through 2016 as Baby Boomers age. Healthcare reforms which may mandate health insurance for all Americans (a move supported by the American Medical Association) would also impact the need for physicians and their salaries as well.

  2. Pharmacists
    Pharmacists prepare and dispense drugs, and provide advice about proper medication schedules and procedures. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported approximately 62% of pharmacists work in community pharmacies and 25% work in hospitals. Others work in research, manufacturing, insurance and consulting. Traditional pharmacies are evolving into healthcare clinics where pharmacists work alongside physicians or physician assistants.

    Becoming a pharmacist often requires a doctorate in pharmacy (PharmD) as well as passing a licensing exam. Residency programs offer additional education opportunities.

    There were 266,410 pharmacists in 2008 with an average annual salary of $104,260. The need for new pharmacists is expected to grow between 18-26% through 2016.

  3. Physical Therapist
    Physical therapists work to improve the physical function of patients suffering from diseases or injuries. They work in hospitals, private practices, clinics, nursing homes and fitness centers. The work itself is physically demanding, as therapists must be able to lift patients and maneuver equipment. There were 173,000 physical therapists in 2006, which is expected to increase to 220,000 by 2016, fueled by an aging population and injured military personnel returning from war.

    Like many professions, the work environment and nature of the position is subject to change, so there is significant variation in the range of physical therapists' salaries. The average salary is $66,200. The occupation requires a master's degree and a license.

  4. Registered Nurses
    Registered nurses (RNs) care for patients in an increasing number of environments. They wear a lot of hats and can specialize in dozens of different areas. Nursing is a hot career. Over 2.5 million people worked as registered nurses in 2008 with a median salary of over $57,600.

    The demand for nurses is expected to remain so high a national organization called Nurse Workforce Centers exists to combat the issue. Nurses face many of the same liability concerns as physicians, so the American Association of Legal Nurse Consultants serves attorneys who provide work-related legal services to nurses.

  5. Dental Hygienist
    Dental hygienists do more than just clean teeth. They examine other areas of the mouth for signs of disease, take x-rays and instruct patients in proper oral care. The vast majority of dental hygienists work in dental offices but some hygienists work as independent contractors serving multiple offices. They often work part-time on flexible schedules.

    Most dental hygiene schools accept high school graduates, but some require some college training. Graduates must pass a licensing exam to practice. There were 167,000 dental hygienists in 2006. The occupation is expected to grow 30% by 2016, largely due to the spreading knowledge of proper oral care requirements.

    The typical dental hygienist salary is $48,304. Nonetheless, there are wide income variations within this occupation - dental hygienists typically can make from $20-41/hour. (Interested in adding health care stocks to your portfolio? Read Investing in the Health Care Sector.)

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services offers scholarships and loan repayments to healthcare workers who serve two to four years with the National Health Service Corp in a designated healthcare shortage area.

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