Various Careers in Health Care and How They Differ

If you have always wanted to help people, then you may enjoy a career in a health care field. However, health care careers are not all equal. They differ not only in pay scale but also in the time it takes to obtain a degree. The type of degree or degrees you will need, the time you must spend training and the salary you will receive will depend on the medical career path you choose. You may also wish to choose a health care career based on other factors, such as your own personality. For example, you may prefer working in a fast-paced emergency room, or you may desire the quieter environment you are likely to have if you decide to work in a different medical field, such as ophthalmology. Regardless of your personal preferences, there are many medical careers from which you can pick. Below is a list of several popular health care careers and an explanation of how they are different from other careers in the industry.

Nurse Practitioner or Physician Assistant

If you want a career in health care but do not want to become a physician, then you can obtain certification as a nurse practitioner. However, you must first become a registered nurse, which requires you to have a bachelor’s degree in the field of nursing. After obtaining your nursing degree and working as a registered nurse for a certain period of time, you can obtain your nurse practitioner certification. It will take you between two to four years to receive your nurse practitioner certification, at which point you will be legally able to make certain types of patient assessments, order and assess lab tests, and prescribe treatments or medications for patients.

A similar alternative to a career as a nurse practitioner is that of a physician assistant. As a physician assistant, you will have similar authority and capabilities to those of a nurse practitioner. However, you will be legally required to work in tandem with a licensed doctor. You will also be legally authorized to assist surgeons during surgical procedures. However, you must understand that your pay will be significantly lower than the pay of a doctor or surgeon. It will take you approximately two years to obtain a degree as a physician assistant, and it will be beneficial if you already have a bachelor’s degree in nursing prior to starting your physician assistant training. However, this may not be required.


As a surgeon, your skills are likely to be in high demand. However, you will be working in a high-stress environment, often under emergency conditions. On-call work will also be common, since emergencies requiring surgical intervention do not occur on a set schedule.

The wages you will make as a surgeon depend on your exact area of surgical expertise and the geographic area in which you work. For example, if you become a surgeon at an urban hospital in a large city, your pay will generally be higher than that of a surgeon performing similar procedures in a small rural hospital. However, if you choose to work in a smaller hospital, you are likely to have the advantage of having a less hectic schedule than you would in a large metropolitan hospital.

In order to become a surgeon, you must begin with undergraduate studies, get high grades on your Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) and attend medical school for four years. You will also be required to pass a test called the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE). If you pass the examination, you will be legally able to start a five-year surgical residency. Depending on whether or not you wish to specialize in a particular type of surgery, you may also require further training through fellowships.


If you love children, then you may enjoy becoming a pediatrician. When choosing a career in pediatrics, you must decide if you wish to become a pediatric general practitioner or specialize in treating children with particular ailments. For example, you may choose to become a pediatric oncologist in order to treat children with various types of cancer. In order to become a pediatrician of any sort, you must complete four years of medical school after your undergraduate studies. Then, you will be required to complete three years of residency. After all of that training is complete, you can become a general practitioner of pediatrics or accept a fellowship to study a particular area of pediatric studies.

Physical or Occupational Therapist

Unlike the medical careers listed above, you do not need to complete medical school to become a physical therapist or an occupational therapist. However, you must still complete specialized training, and you will not receive as much pay as you would in more specialized medical fields. If you choose to become a physical therapist, you will be able to help patients attempt to regain mobility after injuries and ailments. To become a physical therapist, you will be required to obtain a Doctorate of Physical Therapy (DPT) degree, which will take about three years. The physical therapy studies program you choose may require you to have a bachelor’s degree prior to obtaining your DPT.

If you choose to become an occupational therapist, you will need a master’s degree, which may take two years or more to obtain. However, you will also have the option of becoming an occupational therapist aide or assistant, which only requires a two-year degree. In either case, you will be able to help patients improve the skills they need in order to return to work or to their homes after illnesses or injuries.