The creation of modern healthcare in the U.S. began with the Industrial Revolution. Emerging technologies created new methods of production and distribution, and the hastily assembled workforce that formed around these new industries drove the urbanization of the country's major cities. As American metropolitan areas grew in area and inhabitants, the resulting burden on the country's nascent healthcare system spurred a sister revolution to the larger revolution changing the nation. Healthcare administrators and government legislators began to rapidly develop the standards, processes and, critically, the specialized job roles required to provide care and treatment for a growing number of U.S. citizens.
Today, the American healthcare industry is easily as complex and challenging as any managed system in the nation's history. The population of the United States has grown by more than 200 million people in the last 100 years. This population explosion has impacted every facet of U.S. healthcare, and is responsible for the creation of a uniquely diversified and specialized workforce.
Given the radical advancement of science and technology in the last few decades, it is no surprise that the healthcare industry has become a major employer of STEM graduates (science, technology, engineering and math). The variety and volume of STEM-based careers in the healthcare industry is immeasurable, and represents a lucrative future avenue of opportunity for students who are preparing to begin their journey through college or university.
While there are literally dozens of possible healthcare career paths to choose from, there are certain STEM-related healthcare occupations that stand out for their potential future growth and associated compensation. Here are a few of the highly rated STEM healthcare careers along with their related college majors and requirements.
Computer System Analysts
Associated Majors: Computer Systems, Information Systems, Information Technology
Whether privately or publicly owned, today's hospitals, clinics and medical laboratories all run on computer-based systems. There is as much need for skilled hardware and software analysts in healthcare as in any other modern industry. This is particularly true when dealing with systems that can directly or indirectly influence a patient outcome. These systems require qualified system analysts to perform constant maintenance, monitoring and evaluation.
System analysts working in the healthcare industry are held to a high standard, as they may be responsible for maintaining critical systems involved in patient care -- as well as other systems in more mundane (but still important) areas such as administration and facilities. The job market in this field is predicted to experience double-digit growth in the coming years, making it highly desirable for students interested in potentially higher-than-average job security.
- Number of workers currently employed: 23,450
- Projected job growth 2014-2024: 21%
- Annual median wage, May 2015: $77,330
Network and Computer System Administrators
Associated Majors: Medical Informatics
The healthcare industry is driven by information. If the right information isn't retrievable at the right time, consequences can include process inefficiencies, billing errors, inventory shortages and even endangerment of patients. Network and computer system administrators take responsibility for ensuring around-the-clock access to vital information systems. Admins also manage user accounts, permissions to access resources, and the use of mobile devices by healthcare professionals.
A field related to network and computer administration is Medical Informatics. Medical informatics is a multi-disciplinary field that combines aspects of computer science, behavioral science, and information management. A student who majors in medical informatics could find themselves well-positioned to move to higher levels in the healthcare industry, possibly earlier in their career path.
- Number of workers currently employed: 20,960
- Projected job growth 2014-2024: 8%
- Annual median wage, May 2015: $72,610
Associated Majors: Computer Science/Programming
The need for skilled computer programmers is a common thread found in job fairs across multiple industries. Healthcare has a unique need in this area, as software programs must conform to stringent government requirements while still providing the necessary healthcare-related functionality. Healthcare software is also sometimes classified as a medical device by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which can place heavy demands on programmers to meet or exceed FDA-established guidelines and standards.
The number of jobs for computer programmers is expected to grow significantly between now and 2024. Students who become proficient programmers may find their skills in demand in the healthcare industry. An added bonus is that experienced computer programmers often have little difficulty moving from one industry to another if it becomes necessary due to a life event, like relocation. This flexibility is not present in many careers.
- Number of workers currently employed: 4,510
- Projected job growth 2014-2024: 12%
- Annual median wage, May 2015: $81,460
Associated Major: Statistics
Healthcare in the U.S. is tied heavily to finance and resource management. Many health-related facilities are privately owned and expected to make a profit. Even with government or public owned facilities, there is a strong requirement to control costs and make every internal system as efficient as possible. In order to do this, healthcare administrators need analyses created from the fullest, most relevant data available.
Enter the healthcare statistician. Statisticians are expert data collectors and analyzers who turn information into real-world practices and policies. Students who earn a Bachelor's degree in Statistics can usually break into this field at an entry-level position -- moving forward to a master's degree may open even more doors in the healthcare industry.
- Number of workers currently employed: 2,400
- Projected job growth 2014-2024: 34%
- Annual median wage, May 2015: $75,890
Associated Majors: Bioengineering and Biomedical Engineering
In today's highly specialized working world, there is a dedicated form of engineering for almost every field of human endeavor. The same can be said for the healthcare industry, which is heavily invested in bioengineering, also known as biomedical engineering or BME.
Future biomedical engineers have a remarkable number of concentrations to choose from. BME is obviously based on biology and medicine, but also encompasses a myriad of disciplines including nanotechnology, information technology, gene therapy, neural networks and molecular biophysics just to name a few. BME can be an exciting and challenging career path that keeps its practitioners involved in the cutting edge of healthcare-related science.
This dynamic field is relatively new, making it ripe for future employment opportunities. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has predicted that biomedical engineering job growth may exceed 20 percent between 2014 and 2014.
- Number of workers currently employed: 2,220
- Projected job growth 2014-2024: 23%
- Annual median wage, May 2015: $73,930
www.census.gov; 1910 and 2010 Fast Facts
"What is Medical Informatics?" by Dr. Scot Silverstein; http://cci.drexel.edu/faculty/ssilverstein/informaticsmd/infordef1.htm