Creating a top career list is a difficult undertaking because what makes a person happy in their work is so subjective.
When US News created their list of the top jobs in healthcare, nurse practitioners ranked number two. They based their findings on factors such as salary, unemployment rate, projected growth, future job prospects, stress level, and work-life balance.
These are important factors to consider when you are considering a new career, but it is important to think about how you will feel when you are at work. Will you be satisfied in your chosen field, or would some other careers keep you more engaged?
Let’s look at the top five jobs in healthcare, and then an in-depth look at nurse practitioners, what exactly they are, how you can become one, and whether you are likely to enjoy it once you get there.
The top five health care jobs
According to US News, the top five jobs in healthcare are:
- Physician’s assistant. Physician’s assistants work under doctors and help them care for their patients by diagnosing illnesses, developing, and carrying out treatment plans, assisting in surgeries, and guiding patients. The median salary for a physician’s assistant is $112,260, and the unemployment rate is 0.7%.
- Nurse practitioner. Nurse practitioners carry out many of the same duties as physicians; they will consult with patients, carry out diagnoses, educate them on good health care, and recommend treatment plans. They can also prescribe medications in some states. The median salary for nurse practitioners is $109,820, and the unemployment rate is 1.2%.
- Physician. Physicians are highly educated, and they are experts in their fields. Becoming a physician is highly competitive, and its stressful work, but the pay is high, and there is a great amount of prestige associated with the role. The median salary for physicians is $206,500, and the unemployment rate is 0.3%.
- Speech-language pathologist. Speech-language pathologists work with anyone who is having trouble speaking and swallowing. They may work with children who have a stutter or a lisp, for example, or with stroke patients. The median salary for speech-language pathologists is $79,120, and the unemployment rate is 0.8%
- Dentist. Dentists are responsible for the oral health of their patients. They carry out examinations, tooth extractions, cleanings, and treat any issues pertaining to the mouth and gum. The median salary for dentists is $155,600, and the unemployment rate is 0.2%
These are all great career options for people who want to work in healthcare and want to be assured of a good salary and job security.
As well as the financial benefits, nurse practitioners frequently report high levels of satisfaction in their roles because of the amount of flexibility in their roles and the autonomy they have in dictating patient care.
What is a nurse practitioner?
Nurse practitioners are registered nurses who have undertaken additional training at the postgraduate level, which allows them to have more autonomy over patient care. When they train, they specialise in an area of medicine; for example, they might decide to focus on family practice or cardiology.
They can carry out many of the tasks that a physician might, for example carrying out consultations, ordering tests, making a diagnosis, and prescribing medication. In some states, they operate under the supervision of a physician, but they are allowed to operate with complete autonomy and even open their own private practices in others.
Nurse practitioners take a holistic approach to medicine, meaning that they treat the whole person rather than just looking at the presenting health condition. They focus a lot of their time on education so that people can make better health decisions going forwards, which is ultimately helping to ease some of the pressure on the healthcare system.
They often work in rural locations where populations cannot easily access a physician, meaning that they are enabling wider access to healthcare.
Salary and outlook
Nurse practitioner salaries vary depending on where they are working in the country, what type of healthcare facility they work in, and what type of specialism they have. Nurse practitioners working in cities will often be paid more than those working in more rural locations.
In May 2019, the median salaries for nurse practitioners by industry were:
- Hospitals (state, local and private): $122,420
- Outpatient care centers: $118,530
- Physicians’ offices: $113,190
- Educational services: $108,790
The BLS (Bureau of Labor Statistics) is predicting a 45% growth in demand for nurse practitioners between 2019 and 2029, with additional 117,700 positions becoming available.
This is due mostly to the aging population, there are now more people aged over 65 than there have been before, and usually, this group will require more healthcare.
What makes a satisfying career?
Nurse practitioners earn a good salary, and it certainly seems like a stable field to be part of. However, it is still possible to be employed in a well-paid job and not enjoy it. What else should you consider when thinking about what makes a job satisfying?
Research has shown that money alone is not enough to keep you satisfied. Studies have shown that once you earn enough to cover your housing, transportation, and food needs comfortably, more money does not make you happier. Once you are earning around $50,000 per year, earning additional money does not increase happiness.
The important factors for a satisfying job are:
- Engaging work. Work that keeps you interested and focused
- Work that benefits others. Helping others is highly linked to our own sense of well-being
- Work that you are good at. This is a biggie. If you are not good at your job, work is going to be a struggle. Plus, if you’re doing something, you’re good at, this puts you in a better position to argue for other factors like more favourable pay and working conditions.
- Flexibility. We are all individuals, and we all like to work in different ways. Having a say in where, when, and how you work goes a long way towards job satisfaction.
- Lack of negatives. Things like a long commute, poor working conditions, or very low pay will mean you do not enjoy your work.
- Meaningful collaboration. Working alongside like-minded individuals who are supportive of you will make your working hours feel so much more satisfying.
Let’s see how nurse practitioners stack up against these factors.
97% of nurse practitioners said that they would recommend becoming a nurse practitioner to children and younger people.
This level of satisfaction comes from the amount of engagement and autonomy they have in their work, and they are afforded an enormous sense of satisfaction because they are able to decide the best treatment options for their patients and see them through.
Work that benefits other people
Nurse practitioners benefit their patients through the medical care they provide; they also benefit entire communities through their health care advice and guidance.
They are also beneficial for the entire health service, as they take some of the load of work off the shoulders of primary care physicians, allowing more people to receive the treatment they need.
Work you are good at
This one is personal and difficult to comment on. However, if you are someone who has worked as a registered nurse and enjoyed it or worked in another role where you are providing patient care, then training as a nurse practitioner could be an excellent next step in your career as it will build on the skill base that you already have.
This is where being a nurse practitioner stands out from other healthcare roles.
Nurse practitioners are able to train in a specialism; for example, they might specialize in oncology, mental health, or cardiology, to name just a few. This means that they can create a career that is based around the field of medicine that is of the most interest to them.
Not only this but they can choose where they work, which will have a huge impact on how their working days look. For example, a nurse practitioner could work in a fast-paced research hospital, or they might work in a rural health clinic where the focus is more on education and relationship building in a community.
In a lot of states, nurse practitioners are even able to start a private practice of their own, meaning that they have the opportunity to become not only health professionals but business owners too.
To find out more about how to start a private practice as a nurse practitioner, click here.
Lack of negatives
The good pay and flexibility for nurse practitioners mean that it is possible to create a role for yourself that fits in with your life, so it does not feature negatives like unsociable hours, low pay, or an unfavorable working condition.
Nurse practitioners spend the majority of their time working in collaboration with other healthcare providers, and they often take on the role of coordinating care and helping their patients to get the advice and experience of the most qualified people in every scenario.
Ellen Diamond did her degree in psychology at the University of Edinburgh. She is interested in mental health and well-being.