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Non-Nursing Healthcare Professions

Snapshot: This article provides an overview of some healthcare professions that many individuals interested in becoming a Registered Nurse (RN) may also consider. Each related profession includes an overview of that occupation, basic data on required education, expected job growth, and expected earnings, and a comparison with nursing. Statistical and other data is derived from the most recent information published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

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Physicians & Surgeons (MD’s) Physician Assistants (PA’s) Physical Therapists (PT’s) Occupational Therapists (OT’s) Respiratory Therapists (RT’s) Diagnostic Medical Sonographers and Technologists
 

Physicians & Surgeons (MD’s)

Overview

  • Physicians diagnose and treat and injuries or illnesses. They take medical histories, prescribe medications, do education with patients and families, and perform scientific research. Surgeons are licensed to perform operations. Physicians may work in hospitals, or in private offices or clinics.

Entry-Level Education

  • Doctoral or professional degree

Time to Completion

  • 4 years of undergraduate college + 4 years of medical school + 3 to 8 years in internship and residency programs = 11 to 16 years total

Average Pay

  • Approximately $150,000 – $300,000+ annually, depending upon specialty and geographic location

Job Outlook

  • 18% growth over next 10 years (faster than average)

Comparison with Nursing

  • Nurse Practitioners (NP’s) perform jobs in nursing that are most comparable to Physicians (MD’s).
  • Like Physicians, NP’s may independently assess patients’ health status and prescribe medications in all 50 U.S. states, although in some states NP’s technically work “under” the license of a Physician. Some NP’s can perform simple outpatient surgeries (such as suturing wounds), but are not licensed to perform more complex or high risk operations.
  • NP’s require 2 – 3 years to complete their degrees, with no residency beyond degree completion required, and earn about $85,000 – $110,000 annually, depending upon specialty and geographic location.
  • Whereas physicians operate according to a biomedical model, NP’s (like other nurses) operate according to a bio-psycho-social model, in which a concern for biological health is integrated with the individual’s psychological and social wellbeing.

Physician Assistants (PA’s)

Overview

  • Physician assistants practice medicine on a team under the supervision of physicians and surgeons. They may examine patients, diagnose injuries and illnesses, and provide medical care. Physician assistants may work in physicians’ offices, hospitals, or outpatient clinics.

Entry-Level Education

  • Master’s degree

Time to Completion

  • 4 years of undergraduate college + 2 to 3 years of physician assistant school = 6 to 7 years total. No residency usually required beyond degree completion, although 9 – 15 months of the program is spent in supervised clinical training.

Average Pay

  • About $80-100,000 annually, depending on practice area and geographic location.

Job Outlook

  • 38% growth over next 10 years (much faster than average)

Comparison with Nursing

  • Nurse Practitioners (NP’s) perform jobs in nursing that are most comparable to Physician Assistants (PA’s).
  • Like Physician Assistants (PA’s), NP’s may independently assess patients’ health status and prescribe medications in all 50 U.S. states. Like PA’s, the type of medications that can be prescribed, and under what circumstances, is restricted in some states according to state-level regulation. Both NP’s and PA’s are categorized as “mid level providers” in healthcare settings.
  • Similarly to NP’s, PA’s may specialize in certain areas, such as primary care, pediatrics, or general surgical care.
  • Unlike NP’s, who are advanced practice nurses, PA’s always work on a physician led team. In all 50 U.S. states, PA’s work under the license of a physician. In contrast, in some U.S. states NP’s are (at least nominally) more ‘independent’ of physician collaboration and oversight.
  • Whereas Physician Assistants (PA’s) operate according to a biomedical model, NP’s (like other nurses) operate according to a bio-psycho-social model, in which a concern for biological health is integrated with the individual’s psychological and social wellbeing.
  • Unlike NP’s, in most cases PA’s must re-test every 6 years to re-certify themselves and continue practicing.
  • NP’s require 2 – 3 years to complete their degrees, with usually no residency beyond degree completion required, and earn about $85,000 – $110,000 annually, depending upon specialty and geographic location. This is roughly comparable to the time and cost of becoming a PA.

Physical Therapists (PT’s)

Overview

  • Physical therapists (PT’s) help patients recover physical function and movement, and manage pain. PT’s often play a key role in rehabilitation and treatment of patients with injuries or chronic conditions. PT’s usually work in private clinics or hospitals.

Entry-Level Education

  • Doctoral or professional degree
  • Note: while Physical Therapists used to be able to obtain only a Master’s degree, this qualification is being phased out, and only currently practicing physical therapists will be able to continue practicing with a Master’s level education. The new professional standard is set to become the DPT (Doctor of Physical Therapy).

Time to Completion

  • 4 years of undergraduate college + 3 years of physical therapist school = 7 years total. This usually includes a residency or fellowship program, which is a component of most Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) programs.

Average Pay

  • About $70,000 – $100,000 annually, depending upon specialty and geographic location.

Job Outlook

  • 36% over next 10 years (much faster than average)

Comparison with Nursing

  • Nurse Practitioners (NP’s) are probably the nursing role most comprable to Physical Therapists (PT’s), although a comparison isn’t easy because PT’s have a more specialized role than most nurses. The training to become a PT has in many ways become as rigorous as for a physician, although the time spent in higher education and residency is shorter than for physicians.
  • Physical Therapists take patient histories, develop a plan of care, perform tests and measurements, and aid patients in a variety of therapeutic modalities to improve strength, range of motion, balance and coordination, muscle performance, respiration, and motor function.
  • Like NP’s, physical therapists may also specialize in a broad range of areas, such as sports medicine, orthapedics, neurology, wound care, pediatrics and geriatrics. Unlike NP’s, however, Physical Therapists are more narrowly focused on physical wellbeing and rehabilitation.
  • Physical therapists and occupational therapists often work together, in collaboration with physicians and nurses (both advanced practice nurses and RN’s) to develop patient plans of care.
  • NP’s require 2 – 3 years to complete their degrees, with usually no residency beyond degree completion required, and earn about $85,000 – $110,000 annually, depending upon specialty and geographic location. This is roughly comparable to the time and cost of becoming a Physical Therapist.

Occupational Therapists (OT’s)

Overview

  • Occupational Therapists (OT’s) treat disabled, ill or injured patients by helping them to recover, develop and improve the skills they require in their daily life and work. OT’s work in hospitals, schools, physician’s offices, nursing homes, and home health services.

Entry-Level Education

  • Master’s degree

Time to Completion

  • 4 years of undergraduate college + 2 to 3 years of physical therapist school = 6 to 7 years total

Average Pay

  • About $70,000 to $85,000 annually, depending upon specialty and geographic location.

Job Outlook

  • 29% over the next 10 years (much faster than average)

Comparison with Nursing

  • Occupational therapists (OT’s) have roles similar, in some respects, to both Registered Nurses (RN’s) and Nurse Practitioner (NP’s), although they have a more specific focus. Like RN’s, Occupational Therapists are concerned with the physical, psychological and social function of their patients; like NP’s, they required advanced education and have a great deal of autonomy on the healthcare team.
  • Occupational therapists help patients using a variety of techniques and modalities. For example, an OT might help an amputee learn how to put on, take off, and use an artificial limb, counsel a patient with mental illness to increase social skills and improve resilience, do a home assessment for an elderly person to reduce falls and increase independence, or perform and implement an ergonomic evaluation and program of education in a workplace to prevent repetitive stress injuries.
  • Similarly to both RN’s and NP’s, Occupational Therapists may specialize in a variety of sub-fields, such as rehabilitation, children and youth, mental health, and geriatrics.
  • The time and cost to become an Occupational Therapist (2 to 3 years of higher education) is closest to that of a Nurse Practitioner; the wages of most OT’s ($70 – 85,000) is roughly mid-way between the wages of most RN’s and NP’s.

Respiratory Therapists (RT’s)

Overview

  • Respiratory therapists help care for patients with breathing problems such as asthma, emphysema, and other chronic respiratory diseases. Patients may range in age from the infants to the very old. Most respiratory therapists work in hospitals, although some work in home settings, outpatient clinics, and nursing homes.

Entry-Level Education

  • Associate’s degree
  • Note: some Respiratory Therapists have Bachelor’s degrees; this is becoming more common.

Time to Completion

  • 2 to 3 years for an Associate’s degree, 4 years for a Bachelors degree

Average Pay

  • About $50,000 to $60,000 annually, depending upon work environment and geographic location.

Job Outlook

  • 19% over the next 10 years (faster than average)

Comparison with Nursing

  • Registered Nurses (RN’s) perform jobs in nursing that are most comparable to Respiratory Therapists (RT’s) in terms of required education and average income, although Respiratory Therapists have more specialized roles in healthcare in comparison with RN’s.
  • Respiratory therapists do more than administer breathing treatments; they also help analyze respiratory problems, educate patients, and communicate with other members of the healthcare team to formulate a plan of care.
  • Like Registered Nurses, Respiratory therapists are healthcare professionals who work under the supervision of a primary care provider, such as a physician or nurse practitioner, to treat a variety of respiratory problems. Respiratory therapists and Registered Nurses (RN’s) may collaborate to help treat patients.
  • Despite their more specialized clinical role, like Registered Nurses Respiratory therapists must be skilled at integrating scientific and technical knowledge with “people skills” in complex clinical environments. Patients often turn to respiratory therapists for support, information, and reassurance.
  • Respiratory therapists may specialize to some extent in providing care for different patient populations, such as for pediatric patients, geriatric patients, or in different clinical settings, such as in intensive care units (ICU’s), Emergency Medicine, in Medical-Surgical units, or in outpatient settings (e.g. home health), among others.

Diagnostic Medical Sonographers & Technologists

Note: This includes Cardiovascular Technologists and Vascular Technologists, who are more specialized types of Diagnostic Medical Sonographers. 

Overview

  • Diagnostic medical sonographers, and cardiovascular and vascular technologists, operate special imaging equipment conduct tests and create images that aid in the assessment and diagnosis of medical conditions. Most sonographers and technologists work in hospitals, although some also work in outpatient clinics and diagnostic laboratories.

Entry-Level Education

  • Associates degree
  • Note: While an Associates degree is the minimum requirement, it is becoming more common for employers to require additional professional certifications, and Bachelors level programs are also growing in number and popularity.

Time to Completion

  • 1 to 4 years, depending upon type of program and amount of clinical/work experience integrated in program

Average Pay

  • About $55,000 to $65,000 per year, depending upon specialty and geographic location

Job Outlook

  • 39% over the next 10 years (much faster than average)

Comparison with Nursing

  • Registered Nurses (RN’s) perform jobs in nursing that are most comparable to those performed by Diagnostic Medical Sonographers in terms of required education and average income, although sonographers have more specialized roles in healthcare in comparison with RN’s.
  • Sonography uses non-ionizing ultrasound to produce 2D and 3D images of the body. Diagnostic medical sonographers and technicians, however, do not simply operate imaging equipment. They also help to interpret images, analyze data, plan procedures, educate and reassure patients, and provide oral and written summaries and analyses of diagnostic procedures for physicians and other members of the healthcare team.
  • Like RN’s, diagnostic medical sonographers must be skilled at integrating scientific and technical knowledge with good “people skills.” Patients often first turn to sonographers to help explain and interpret medical tests and procedures, and sonographers must be able to “read” how different patients will respond to and tolerate different types of diagnostic testing.
  • Sonographers may specialize in a particular area, such as sonography of musculoskeletal areas, sonography of the abdomen, and neurosonology (imaging of the brain and spinal cord), among others.