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Career Information: Medical & Dental

Combining medical technology and the human touch, the health care industry administers care around the clock, responding to the needs of millions of people—from newborns to the critically ill.


  • As the largest industry in 2006, health care provided 14 million jobs—13.6 million jobs for wage and salary workers and about 438,000 jobs for the self-employed.
  • 7 of the 20 fastest growing occupations are health care related.
  • Health care will generate 3 million new wage and salary jobs between 2006 and 2016, more than any other industry.
  • Most workers have jobs that require less than 4 years of college education, but health diagnosing and treating practitioners are among the most educated workers.


Health care firms employ large numbers of workers in professional and service occupations. Together, these two occupational groups account for 3 out of 4 jobs in the industry. The next largest share of jobs, 18 percent, is in office and administrative support. Management, business, and financial operations occupations account for only 4 percent of employment. Other occupations in health care made up only 2 percent of the total.

Professional occupations, such as PHYSICIANS and SURGEONS, DENTISTS, REGISTERED NURSES, SOCIAL WORKERS, and PHYSICAL THERAPISTS, usually require at least a bachelors degree in a specialized field or higher education in a specific health field, although registered nurses also enter through associate degree or diploma programs. Professional workers often have high levels of responsibility and complex duties. In addition to providing services, these workers may supervise other workers or conduct research.

Other health professionals and technicians work in many fast growing occupations, such as MEDICAL RECORDS & HEALTH INFORMATION TECHNICIANS and DENTAL HYGIENISTS. These workers may operate technical equipment and assist health diagnosing and treating practitioners. Graduates of 1- or 2-year training programs often fill such positions; the jobs usually require specific formal training beyond high school, but less than 4 years of college.

Service occupations attract many workers with little or no specialized education or training. For instance, some of these workers are NURSING AIDES, HOME HEALTH AIDES, BUILDING CLEANING WORKERS, DENTAL ASSISTANTS, MEDICAL ASSISTANTS, and PERSONAL AND HOME CARE AIDES. NURSING or HOME HEALTH AIDES provide health-related services for ill, injured, disabled, elderly, or infirm individuals either in institutions or in their homes. By providing routine personal care services, personal and home care aides help elderly, disabled, and ill persons live in their own homes instead of in an institution. Although some of these workers are employed by public or private agencies, many are self-employed. With experience and, in some cases, further education and training, service workers may advance to higher level positions or transfer to new occupations.

Most workers in health care jobs provide clinical services, but many also are employed in occupations with other functions. Numerous workers in management and administrative support jobs keep organizations running smoothly. Although many MEDICAL AND HEALTH SERVICE MANAG have a background in a clinical specialty or training in health care administration, some enter these jobs with a general business education.

Each segment of the health care industry provides a different mix of wage and salary health-related jobs...

HOSPITALS: Hospitals employ workers with all levels of education and training, thereby providing a wider variety of services than is offered by other segments of the health care industry. About 3 in 10 hospital workers is a registered nurse. Hospitals also employ many physicians and surgeons, therapists, and social workers. About 1 in 5 hospital jobs are in a service occupation, such as nursing, psychiatric, and home health aides, or building cleaning workers. Hospitals also employ large numbers of office and administrative support workers.

NURSING AND RESIDENTIAL CARE FACILITIES:About 2 out of 3 nursing and residential care facility jobs are in service occupations, primarily nursing, psychiatric, and home health aides. Professional and administrative support occupations make up a much smaller percentage of employment in this segment, compared to other parts of the health care industry. Federal law requires nursing facilities to have licensed personnel on hand 24 hours a day and to maintain an appropriate level of care.

OFFICES OF PHYSICIANS:Many of the jobs in offices of physicians are in professional and related occupations, primarily physicians, surgeons, and registered nurses. About two-fifths of all jobs, however, are in office and administrative support occupations, such as receptionists and information clerks.

OFFICES OF DENTISTS:Roughly one-third of all jobs in this segment are in service occupations, mostly dental assistants. The typical staffing pattern in dentists offices consists of one dentist with a support staff of dental hygienists and dental assistants. Larger practices are more likely to employ office managers and administrative support workers.

HOME HEALTH CARE SERVICES:About 3 in 5 jobs in this segment are in service occupations, mostly home health aides and personal and home care aides. Nursing and therapist jobs also account for substantial shares of employment in this segment.

OFFICES OF OTHER HEALTH PRACTITIONERS:About 2 in 5 jobs in this industry segment are professional and related occupations, including physical therapists, occupational therapists, dispensing opticians, and chiropractors. Healthcare practitioners and technical occupations and office and administrative support occupations also accounted for a significant portion of all jobs—34 percent and 32 percent, respectively.

OUTPATIENT CARE SERVICES:This segment of the health care industry employs a high percentage of professional and related workers, including counselors, social workers, and registered nurses.

OTHER AMBULATORY HEALTH SERVICES:Because this industry segment includes ambulance services, it employs about 2 out of every 5 EMERGENCY MEDICAL TECHNICIANS, PARAMEDICS and AMBULANCE DRIVERS and ATTENDANTS.

MEDICAL AND DIAGNOSTIC LABORATORIES:Professional and related workers, primarily clinical laboratory and radiologic technologists and technicians, make up 44 percent of all jobs in this industry segment. Service workers employed in this segment include medical assistants, medical equipment preparers, and medical transcriptionists.



Industry earnings:Average earnings of nonsupervisory workers in most health care segments are higher than the average for all private industry, with hospital workers earning considerably more than the average and those employed in nursing and residential care facilities and home health care services earning less (table 4). Average earnings often are higher in hospitals because the percentage of jobs requiring higher levels of education and training is greater than in other segments. Those segments of the industry with lower earnings employ large numbers of part-time service workers.


Average earnings and hours of nonsupervisory workers in health services by industry segment, 2006
Industry segmentEarnings  

Total, private industry

$568 $16.76 33.9

Health services

623 18.73 33.3

Hospitals, public and private

794 22.19 35.8

Medical and diagnostic laboratories

715 19.48 36.7

Offices of physicians

669 19.98 33.5

Outpatient care centers

658 19.33 34.1

Offices of dentists

557 20.51 27.1

Other ambulatory health care services

555 15.58 35.7

Offices of other health practitioners

498 17.27 28.8

Home health care services

429 14.78 29.0

Nursing and residential care facilities

415 12.84 32.3

As in most industries, professionals and managers working in health care typically earn more than other workers in the industry. Earnings in individual health care occupations vary as widely as the duties, level of education and training, and amount of responsibility required by the occupation. Some establishments offer tuition reimbursement, paid training, child day care services, and flexible work hours. Health care establishments that must be staffed around the clock to care for patients and handle emergencies often pay premiums for overtime and weekend work, holidays, late shifts, and time spent on call. Bonuses and profit-sharing payments also may add to earnings.

Median hourly earnings of the largest occupations in health care, May 2006
OCCUPATIONAmbulatory health care servicesHospitalsNursing and residential care servicesAll industries

Registered nurses

$26.25 $28.12 $25.03 $27.54

Licensed practical and licensed vocational nurses

16.78 16.89 18.35 17.57

Dental assistants

14.50 14.76 - 14.53

Medical secretaries

13.62 13.30 12.66 13.51

Medical assistants

12.58 13.14 11.60 12.64

Receptionists and information clerks

11.55 11.74 10.07 11.01

Office clerks, general

11.47 12.55 11.12 11.40

Nursing aides, orderlies, and attendants

10.76 11.06 10.30 10.67