Before you go to college, nurses, doctors, and the entire healthcare apparatus seem like necessary drudgery. Maybe you like your nurse and your doctor, but you don’t want to see them—a trip to the doctor typically means you’re sick or injured. But as you enter college, be prepared to come to a realization: Nurses and doctors make up a vital part of the economy. You could be the next brilliant doctor, the next essential nurse. If you have even the slightest interest in how the human body works, a career in one of these fields may be right for you.
There are a lot of reasons why the healthcare industry is growing fast. Substance abuse is rampant, and that extends to legal drugs such as alcohol. Between 2003 and 2013, the number of people who have problems with alcohol abuse increased by nearly 50 percent, bringing the approximate total of alcoholics to 30 million. Alcoholism can lead to serious health problems and, of course, car accidents and deaths. The opioid crisis is another part of the substance abuse picture. The statistics just keep rising, and for the people who are losing loved ones, the statistics constitute a flesh-and-blood crisis. Every day, 91 people die from an opioid overdose.
Chronic pain is one of the primary reasons people either try to self-medicate with a substance like alcohol or get an opioid prescription. Some sources of chronic pain, such as migraine and cluster headaches, continue to plague people throughout their entire lives, and it’s expensive to do the type of studies and get the type of treatment that may help. A study of chronic pain treatment from the Journal of Pain showed that increasing dosage and duration of opioid treatment makes people’s health get worse. Yet doctors oftentimes prefer prescribing opioids instead of simply telling patients to try behavioral strategies for pain relief. In part, this is because making the right prescription based on symptoms is a best practice in western medicine. Although this is understandable, it’s helping contribute to the problem of opioid abuse and worsening overall health outcomes.
Furthermore, the baby boomer generation, the biggest generation besides millennials, is rapidly growing older, as is Generation X. About 83 million people will be over 65 by the year 2050. As you get older, you need more medical care. About 100 million currently suffer from chronic pain. Combine these numbers with substance abuse numbers, and you can see why medical personnel are in high demand and will see increasing demand in the future.
Along with high demand comes high pay rates. Right now, the highest paid nurse specialties are in areas such as anesthesia, gerontology, and pain management. A gerontology nurse who helps elderly patients makes an average of $70-90K per year. A pain management nurse makes about $90K a year, while a highly specialized Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA), an independent practitioner who anesthetizes patients for surgery, makes around $164,000 a year.
What about doctors? Salaries and demand are incredibly high. Dermatologists can take home up to $1 million, while the average pay for that specialty is $421K. There’s a 6.4 percent shortage of psychiatrists, who earn an average of $263K. Family doctors make about $231K a year, while orthopedic surgeons bring in $579K.
Yes, work in the medical field is demanding, but there’s good reason to consider a career in medicine. Quite simply, people need medical personnel they can trust. You could be part of the next wave of physicians who help end the opioid crisis by prescribing alternative treatments. You could be there as new technologies, such as blockchain, revolutionize medicine and make your job easier. Most importantly, you could save lives.