The aging Baby Boomer population has helped the healthcare and social assistance sector grow rapidly this century – and that growth in healthcare jobs is expected to continue well into the next decade, at least.
Because of that anticipated growth, 2018 might be one of the best years in recent memory to consider a career in healthcare.
Of course, the relative structural instability of the healthcare system in the United States could have an adverse effect on growth eventually.
For one thing, the future of Medicare and Medicaid could hang in the balance as political maneuvering continues well into the next year-plus. Every physician, nurse, or medical professional of any kind should pay close attention to how the U.S. Congress decides to handle those key healthcare programs.
Still, the healthcare sector seems poised to thrive, no matter what happens with the Affordable Care Act and medical safety-net programs.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that the healthcare and social assistance sector will account for approximately 3,998,300 new jobs between 2016 and 2026. That accounts for one-third of all new jobs, and it would give the sector a 13.8 percent share of employment – making it the largest major sector in the U.S. by 2026.
By 2026, the BLS estimates that home healthcare services will add 738,000 jobs by 2026, physician offices will add 548,000 jobs, nursing and residential care facilities will add 429,100 jobs, hospitals will add 419,000 jobs and outpatient care centers will add 322,600 jobs.
Physicians, surgeons, nurses and medical specialists will continue to be in demand. Yet, the fastest growth, according to the BLS, is taking place primarily in support roles.
Only one of the 10 fastest-growing healthcare professions is considered a pure “stand-alone” position – nurse practitioner. Most of the jobs on the list are part of a team in hospitals, ambulatory care facilities, outpatient clinics and home care.
Here are those 10 fastest growing healthcare jobs, listed in order of percentage increase through 2026, as estimated by the BLS:
Home health aides – These healthcare professionals help assist people with disabilities and chronic illnesses. The BLS expects a 46.7% increase in these positions through 2026, with 425,600 new positions. In May 2016, home health aides earned a median annual wage of $22,600. This position will continue to grow as Baby Boomers enter their 70s and 80s, and as more individuals choose to age in place, as opposed to spending their final years in a nursing home.
Personal care aides – A personal care aide performs duties similar to a home health aide, including providing assistance for infirm patients struggling with chronic health issues. The difference is, personal care aides don’t necessarily work in a patient’s home. The BLS expects a 37.4% increase in these positions, with about 754,000 added by 2026. Personal care aides earned a median wage of $21,920 as of May 2016.
Physician assistants – As the title suggests, these medical team members assist physicians, surgeons and specialists in clinical settings. The BLS estimates a 37.4% increase in physician assistant jobs by 2026, with about 39,700 positions added. This is the fastest growing six-figure healthcare job, with a median salary of $101,480 in May 2016.
Nurse practitioners – A nurse practitioner can serve as a primary care provider, delivering advanced nursing treatment to patients in outpatient centers, hospitals or clinics. The BLS estimates a 36% increase, or 56,000 additional nurse practitioner positions, through 2026. In May 2016, the median annual salary of nurse practitioners was $100,910.
Physical therapist assistants – A physical therapist assistant, or PTA, works under the supervision of a physical therapist to help patients recover from injuries or illness. The BLS expects a 30.8% increase (27,200 positions) by 2026, and PTAs made a median wage of $56,610 as of May 2016.
Medical assistants – A medical assistant works in a clinical setting, recording patient information, taking vital signs and performing other administrative and clinical tasks. The BLS expects a 29% increase (184,600 positions) by 2026. Medical assistants made a median wage of $31,540 in May 2016.
Physical therapist aides – Much like physical therapist assistants, physical therapist aides work under supervision to help patients recover. The BLS estimates 29% growth, or 42,300 new physical therapist aide positions, by 2026. These healthcare professionals earned a median wage of $25,680 in 2016.
Occupational therapy assistants – These healthcare professionals help individuals develop plans for them to perform day-to-day tasks as they learn to live with chronic illness or long-term debilitation. The BLS expects a 29% increase, with an additional 13,200 jobs, by 2026. Occupational therapy assistants made a median wage of $59,010 as of May 2016.
Genetic counselors – With a median annual wage of $74,120 in 2016, genetic counselors are among the best-compensated healthcare professionals, if not among the best-known. The BLS estimates a 28% increase in growth for genetic counseling, which entails the gathering and analysis of genetic information that could reveal health risks.
Health specialties teachers, postsecondary – These are educators who teach courses in specializations, such as dentistry, pharmacy, lab tech and more. The BLS anticipates 26% growth in this field, with 197,500 jobs added by 2026. The annual median wage for health specialties teachers was $99,360 in May 2016.