While choosing which career path to follow, a person takes one of the most significant decisions in a lifetime. Taking in account that this choice will affect the whole future life, it is important to be sure it is the right one. Finding a job which would both fit one’s personality in the best way and ensure a steady income seems to be the formula of success. High salary conduces to a greater concentration on results, and hard work is considerably simplified if one is doing what he or she is passionate about. The only way to be successful at work is to love the work itself.
Over the last few decades increasing attention has been paid to the issues concerning public health. Aspirations to high health standards require constant improvements of healthcare system, meaning that medical professions are in high demand. This field offers a wide range of prestigious career paths and opportunities which differentiate by their duties, responsibilities, educational requirements, and salary levels. When considering a career in health care, it is important to analyze all the aspects involved.
Health care managers, medical insurance agents, radiologists, sonographists, and paramedics are five different groups of professionals, each being concerned with medical field and each having their own specificities.
Healthcare management can be described as the use of clinical and information technologies, as well as managerial skills, in order to guarantee the optimal delivery of health care. The proper functioning of hospitals, pharmacies and clinics is possible because of the hard work of professional managers who regulate every process within the establishments.Healthcare system provides a vast variety of services, ranging from preventive medicine to rehabilitation; without an effective management the coordination between miscellaneous institutions would be impossible.
The management of a healthcare system consists of such aspects as staff management, financial management, collaboration with doctors, making business decisions, and office management. A successful healthcare manager must be comfortable delegating duties to his staff. He or she has to be organized, flexible and precise in scheduling and planning . Budget must be set carefully in order to keep expenses low and reach a positive balance. Moreover, managers must be strategic and clairvoyant when making decisions, as one mistake may be crucial. Adding to that, in order to manage the needs of clients effectively, it is vital for healthcare managers to discuss issues with doctors, and, thus, good communication skills are also required.
Educational requirements in the field vary by facility. Most medical managers must hold at least a bachelor’s degree. However, master’s degrees are also common. In some cases, clinical experience, such as nursing background, for example, may also be an advantage. The increasing interest in the subject has impelled many prestigious educational institutions to provide specialized training programs aimed at preparation of top-quality healthcare professionals. For instance, Brandeis and Tufts, as well as Harvard University and Rice University, run a joint doctorate and MBA program. Such a program allows students to earn an MBA in healthcare management while being on their fourth year of medical school (Lankarani, 2010). Rice University has developed a special program for physician executives and other senior health care administrators who want to refine their leadership and managerial skills. After finishing a six-month training course, participants are awarded with a Graduate Certificate in Health Care Management. As a result, graduates are ready to embark innovative campaigns, develop new delivery systems, and become entrepreneurs who can think of new ways to improve the system. In other words, they are ready to meet the highest professional standards.
Most of the medical and healthcare managers work in comfortable office settings in healthcare facilities including hospitals, clinics, and nursing homes. However, work may also require traveling a lot.
Bureau of Labor Statistics (2012) predicts the growth of employment in the field of healthcare management by 22 percent in the next decade, which is faster than the average for all occupations. As the population ages and people proceed being active later in life, it is assumed that the healthcare industry will see the increased demand for medical services. Hence, there will be an increasing need in professional managers in all fields of the industry.
There are various professional organizations related to healthcare management. All of them can be subdivided into personal and institutional membership groups. Personal membership groups are focused mainly on individual skill and career development, whereas institutional memberships concentrate on organizational productivity. American College of Healthcare Executives is one of the most influential personal membership groups (Evans, 2007). Other important organizations include the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society and the Healthcare Financial Management Association. The most famous institutional membership groups are the University Health Systems Consortium and the American Hospital Association.
According to the data provided by Bureau of Labor Statistics (2012), the annual salary of a healthcare manager was 84,270 dollars in May 2010, which is substantially higher than average.
However, besides the obvious advantages, such as stabile income, comfortable working conditions, high demand for professionals in the field, and the availability of numerous supporting organizations, there are still some negative aspects. For example, when one enters the industry, he or she must be ready to work long hours, deal with a lot of paper work, and stand the constant pressure of high responsibility. Besides that, competition in healthcare management is immense, and, therefore, it is crucial to continuously work on personal skills in order to advance in the career.
Medical insurance billing and coding is another rapidly developing specialty in healthcare system. Specialists in this field are responsible for recording and processing data about patients, such as insurance information, treatment records, bills, and received payments. Every patient’s diagnosis has to be registered properly. Coding can be described as the process of transcription of diseases and diagnoses recorded by doctors into a format recognized throughout the entire industry. The codes are used afterwards while requesting insurance companies for payment. Besides that, in cases when extra payments are not covered by the insurance, specialists create payment plans and submit bills to patients. Medical billing and coding specialists frequently work with patients directly while considering their statements and payment options.
Most of the medical billing and coding specialists hold an associate or bachelor’s degree in accounting, business administration, or related fields. However, a high school diploma may be sufficient for some employees. In most cases, companies provide free training courses for young specialists for them to learn about different peculiarities of the work. Adding to that, national professional societies, such as the American Medical Billing Association, offer the medical billing certification exam, which is widely recognized by billers, coders, employers, and other entities. Certification tests can be taken either at community educational institutions or through accredited online programs.
Medical billing and coding specialists usually work in hospitals, doctors’ offices, physical or mental rehabilitation facilities, or other health care institutions. A typical full-time employer works 40 hours a week, from Monday till Friday, with a possibility of being paid overtime (Herzing University, 2013). However, there are various opportunities to work as a freelancer.
The unemployment rate in the field is low, as a certified graduate has the opportunity to choose from a wide variety of different career paths: medical coder, insurance claims analyst, coding specialist, medical clerk, health information specialist, coding technician, abstractor, and medical office assistant. As modern technologies become increasingly available in medical institutions, there is a growing demand for knowledgeable and qualified specialists with good computer skills. Salaries in the field depend on the area of specialization, working experience, and personal skills. The average salary of a medical transcriptionist is estimated to be around 34,000 dollars (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2012).
The clear benefits of working as a medical billing and coding specialist are high demand in the field, relatively low educational requirements, and the possibility to work remotely. On the other hand, incomes are not as high as in the field of healthcare management and the work is not always exciting.
Radiologists are specially trained physicians who read and interpret medical images such as CT scans, X-rays, ultrasounds, and MRIs and use the information to treat health problems. Unlike healthcare managers or medical transcriptionists, they are directly involved in diagnostic process. Normally, radiologists do not write prescriptions but present their conclusions to the treating physicians. For instance, an oncologist may need a CT scan to determine the size and location of a tumor before starting the treatment. In this case, a radiology technologist operates the CT scanner to acquire the image, which is then viewed and interpreted by the radiologist. Frequently, the radiologist would not even interact with the patient. However, interventional radiologists may perform some image-guided therapeutic procedures to help in the treatment of certain oncological or cardiovascular diseases.
As radiologists are fully-licensed physicians, they must spend at least 12 years for education: 4 years of college, 4 years of medical school, and 4 years of residency. Some of the optional subspecialty fellowships, such as mammography, neuroradiology, and interventional radiology, require one extra year of special training. After residency, radiologist must undergo examinations to become certified.
Numerous professional organizations have been established in order to control the quality of patient care in medical imaging. The most influential among them are the American Society of Radiologic Technologies and the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (Grand Valley State University, 2013). Professional organizations promote advances in radiological technologies, as well as provide opportunities for continuous education and career development.
Over the last decade, progress in technology has led to an increased demand in radiology specialists. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistic (2012), the number of working places in the field is expected to grow by 28 percent during the period from 2010 to 2020. Some of the prestigious career paths include interventional radiology, nuclear radiology, chest and bone radiology, and radiation oncology.
Most radiologists are employed full-time and work 40 to 50 hours a week. However, numbers may vary substantially. For instance, at the beginning of the careers, doctors frequently have to work on weekends in order to meet the needs of their patients. On-call duties may add several hours as well, making it difficult to combine career with family life. Moreover, certain imaging equipment can be dangerous for health.
On the other hand, radiologists are among the highest-paid professionals in the medical field. Their salaries may rise as high as 380,000 dollars per year, which is twice more than what a pediatrician earns (Whelan, 2010). Radiologists also enjoy longer vacations: 8-12 weeks, comparing to 4-6 for other physicians.
Potential negative health effects of ionizing radiation from CT imaging and MRI determine the need for alternative diagnostic methods. A sonographer (also known as ultrasound technician) is an expert in using ultrasound equipment designed to take images of the patient’s internal organs. The equipment works by sending ultrasound waves into the body; the waves repulse from bodily tissues and create a virtual image, which is then interpreted by the sonographer. Evaluating the images, sonographers identify structural and functional abnormalities and report the results to treating physicians. There is a range of common procedures: from helping parents to determine the sex of an unborn child to finding occluded blood vessels. Other responsibilities of diagnostic medical sonographers include filling the medical histories and scheduling of appointments. Like radiologists, sonographers rarely perform treatment on their own.
There are different ways of entring the field of diagnostic sonography. Colleges and universities offer either 2- or 4-year programs granting an associate or bachelor’s degree. A standard set of subjects includes anatomy, physiology, basic physics, instrumentation, patient care, and medical ethics. Each program must be accredited by the American Institution of Ultrasound in Medicine (AIUM). Students may also mix formal education with on-the-job training. After graduation, skills and knowledge of sonographers are certified through qualifying evaluation by such organizations as the American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography and the Society of Diagnostic Medical Sonographers (Gulf Coast State College, 2013).
Most of the hospital-based sonographers work around 40 hours a week, though, similarly to radiologists, they may have extra hours on weekends. Sonographers may work either in hospital facilities or in private laboratories. Nowadays, an increasing number of sonographers work as contract employees and may perform tests in several hospitals at the same time.
Like most careers in the medical field, sonographers are in demand these days. Bureau of Labor Statistics (2012) predicts the growth of employment for diagnostic sonographers by 44 percent in the next decade, which is due to the ageing of population and increasing interest in safer alternatives to radiology imaging. Moreover, there is a wide range of different career choices. Some of the most popular areas include abdominal sonography, breast sonography, neurosonography, and fetal echocardiography.
Diagnostic sonographists are well-paid professionals. Their median salary in 2010 totaled 64,400 (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2012), which is considerably higher than average. On the other hand, working long unregulated hours may be challenging at times. Furthermore, sonographers must be physically fit as they spend most of the time standing.
Stress and responsibility are the essential components of every medical specialty. However, the most hectic profession undoubtedly belongs to paramedics. Paramedics are the first healthcare professionals at the place of accident, and they are the first to help when a person suddenly falls ill or gets injured. Paramedics provide the assessment of a patient’s condition, primary treatment and care, and immediate transportation to the hospital; they serve as a bridge between the place of the disaster and medical facility. Incidents ranging from automobile accidents, drowning, and heart attacks to childbirth and gunshot wounds are all in the area of their responsibility. Thus, people’s lives often depend on the quick reaction and competence of a paramedic.
Educational programs for paramedics and EMTs are widely available at colleges, technical schools, and universities. In terms of duration they may range from several months to 4 years. Two-year associate's degree trainings are the most common, although four year Bachelor’s degree programs also exist. Training programs consist of three levels: students start with EMT-Basic level and gradually progress to Paramedic, which is the highest rank of emergency medical personnel. Associate's degree programs usually include classes in biology, chemistry, psychology, anatomy, and physiology. Regardless of education, all graduates must pass the certification exams, consisting of a psychomotor skills practical examination and the computer-based testing. Both parts of the test are held by the National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians.
Working hours of a paramedic depend on where one is employed. Paramedics employed by hospitals often work 45 to 60 hours a week, and those who work in a private sector – 45 to 50. Some specialists, in particular those who work in police and fire departments, may be on call for extended periods. Most of the time, paramedics work in a confined space with one or two partners.
The number of working places for paramedics is expected to grow by 9 percent till 2020 (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2012), as in most medical specialties. Employment opportunities include private ambulance services, hospitals, fire departments, public safety departments, and municipal EMS agencies.
Paramedics earn about 30,500 per year on average (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2012), less than all of the above-mentioned professionals. To be a paramedic one has to be emotionally strong and physically fit, as work is often tedious. Obviously, the job is not for everyone. However, paramedics have always been deeply respected; they embody all the best features that a good doctor must have. Their work may be tough and challenging, but they save people’s lives, and that is the best reward.
In conclusion, it is still hard to decide which of these five medical professions could be considered the best or the most prestigious. Each profession has its benefits and disadvantages, each is aimed to help people, and each requires responsibility and competence. However, taking into consideration the main career characteristics it is possible to make an approximate priority list. Supposedly, the career of a healthcare manager would be on top of the list for many people. High incomes, broad career opportunities, and relatively low exposure to stress seem to be an ideal combination. Profession of a medical transcriptionist would probably be the next on the list, with comfortable working conditions, moderate educational requirements, and promising employment outlook. Choosing between a sonographer and radiology is not an easy option as these jobs are similar in many aspects. Sonographers work in better conditions, use safer tools, and study less. However, the expected compensation, especially huge salaries, still makes radiology more attractive. Finally, with the poorest salaries among the five professions and the most stressful working conditions at the same time, a paramedic’s career path is the least likely to be pursued. All in all, such lists can only be hypothetical, as priorities vary from individual to individual. The best job is where one feels comfortable, enjoys the working process, and has the chance to reveal his or her strongest sides of personality.
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