Health Science Careers: Job Descriptions & Salary Info

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Learn about careers in health science. Get job descriptions, salary and education requirement information. Get straight talk about the pros and cons of a health science career.
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Pros and Cons of a Career in Health Science

Careers in health science include health care, administrative and educational positions, among others. The following chart looks at three specific jobs: physician assistant, fitness trainer and health educator.

Physician Assistant (PA)Fitness TrainerHealth Educator
Career Overview Physician assistants practice medicine under the guidance of doctors.Fitness trainers lead individual and group exercise programs.Health educators develop programs and teach people about health and wellness.
Education Requirements Master's degree No formal education required; educational courses are available Bachelor's degree
Program Length Six years full-time, including the bachelor's degree N/AFour years, full-time
Certification and Licensing Certification through the National Commission of Physician Assistants required in all states CPR certification generally required; voluntary certification is available through multiple organizations including the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) Some employers may require the Certified Health Education Specialist (CHES) credential from the National Commission for Health Education Credentialing, Inc.
Experience Requirement Healthcare experience is generally required for PA school admission Entry-level Entry-level
Job Outlook for 2012-22 Much-faster-than-average growth (38%) compared to all occupations*Fast-as-average growth (13%) compared to all occupations*Faster-than-average growth (19%) compared to all occupations*
Mean Salary (2014) Roughly $97,300*Roughly $39,400* Roughly $55,300*

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Physician's Assistant

Physician assistants, commonly referred to as PAs, work under the direction of physicians providing a variety of services. Specific duties vary based upon specialty and setting, but generally include examining patients, ordering and reading diagnostic tests, providing treatment and medical advice and handling paperwork. As a PA, your ability to write prescriptions and perform other, specialized tasks can vary based on state regulations. You may work in a clinic, hospital or doctor's office. Depending on your place of employment, you may need to be on-call or work during evenings and weekends.

Requirements

To become a physician assistant you'll need a master's degree. Most master's degree programs in physician assistant studies require a bachelor's degree and some healthcare experience for admission. PA programs generally take two years of full-time study and include classroom study and clinical rotations. Your courses will cover anatomy, pharmacology, research and pathophysiology. Rotations give you the opportunity to work in many settings, including internal medicine, pediatrics, psychiatry and surgery. You must also become licensed by passing the Physician Assistant National Certifying Examination, following PA school. To remain licensed, you must participate in continuing education and pass a re-certification exam every six years.

In December 2012, employers of physician assistants advertised for the following:

  • In Boston, a hospital emergency department sought a PA with strong interpersonal skills, 1-2 years of experience and certification through the American Academy of Physician Assistants.
  • A North Carolina medical network advertised for a physician assistant to work in gastroenterology and hepatology services. Candidates needed at least one year of experience and a dedication to the hospital's mission.
  • In Iowa, an orthopedic hand surgeon sought a PA to work in the operating room and clinic. Job duties included making rounds, evaluating patients, assisting during surgery and more.

Standing Out

You can stand out as a PA by pursuing a specialization. After graduating from PA school and passing your certifying exam, you can enter an educational program that will provide instruction in a specialized area, such as internal medicine or pediatric care. You can also benefit from gaining voluntary certification or membership in a professional organization, such as the American Society of Orthopaedic Physician's Assistants.

Fitness Trainer

Fitness trainers provide exercise instruction and health information to individuals and groups. Sometimes called personal trainers or fitness instructors, trainers work in gyms, hospitals, resorts and specialized studios. You may teach fitness classes, such as yoga or aerobics, or work with clients on a one-on-one basis. In this career, you'll demonstrate activities, monitor the progress of your trainees and give advice regarding health and wellness. You may need to provide first aid, monitor safety, and tailor activities for clients with limitations or superior ability. Depending on the size and services of your employer, you may perform administrative tasks or specialize in a certain area of fitness.

Requirements

Requirements for fitness trainers vary widely by employer. Nearly all require a high school diploma or GED. Many employers prefer candidates who are certified in CPR and first aid. If you want to work as a personal trainer, it's likely that you'll need to take classes and earn certification through one of many organizations that offer credentials to fitness instructors. Group exercise instructors are commonly required to audition before being hired. Specialized trainers, such as yoga instructors, may need specific training and certification.

In December 2012, employers sought fitness trainers with the following qualities:

  • In Pennsylvania, a personal trainer and sales associate with CPR, first aid and automated external defibrillator (AED) certification, strong communication skills and a customer-focused attitude was needed to develop programs and train clients.
  • A Michigan personal training studio sought a personal trainer and fitness instructor to provide individual and group training, orient new clients and perform assessments.
  • In Atlanta, a trainer was needed at an athletic club to increase membership, work with individual clients and groups and promote morale.

Standing Out

Since many employers prefer to hire applicants that are certified, you can stand out by earning a certification. The National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM), along with a variety of other organizations, offers certification and specialized credentials for fitness trainers. You can also benefit from pursuing additional education. A bachelor's degree in health or exercise science, kinesiology or physical education can increase your chances of moving into management.

Health Educator

Health educators work in hospitals, schools, businesses and for government and non-profit organizations. They teach people about health issues, such as nutrition, exercise, addiction and disease. In this career, you'll develop programs to serve your target demographics, collect data and compose educational materials. You may specialize in a specific area or work with specialized populations, such as senior citizens or individuals with diabetes. Because you are performing outreach, some positions may require you to work evenings and weekends.

Requirements

To become a health educator, you'll need a bachelor's degree. You may study health education or health science. College coursework should cover psychology, public speaking, human development, nutrition and other health topics. Government positions generally require a master's degree.

The following are some examples of what employers looked for in December 2012:

  • In Ohio, a health educator was needed to develop materials, identify issues, evaluate program effectiveness and work with other employees at a healthcare facility.
  • A Salt Lake City hospital system sought a health educator to produce outreach programs, keep patients and the public informed about relevant developments and recruit volunteers.
  • In California, a science and engineering lab advertised for a health educator to promote workplace wellness, conduct classes and counsel employees.

Standing Out

As a health educator, you can stand out by becoming certified. The National Commission for Health Education Credentialing, Inc. (NCHEC) offers a Certified Health Education Specialists (CHES) designation. To become a CHES, you must earn a bachelor's degree or be within three months of completion, pass an exam and participate in continuing education. The NCHEC also offers a Master Certified Health Education Specialist (MCHES) designation to health educators who have earned a master's degree, have at least five years of experience in the field and participate in continuing education.

Popular Schools

  • Online Programs Available
    1. George Mason University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Science in Health Informatics
      • Master of Science in Health Informatics
  • Online Programs Available
    2. Johns Hopkins University

    Program Options

    Certificate
      • Post-Bachelor's Certificate in Biotechnology Enterprise
      • Post-Bachelor's Certificate in Biotechnology Enterprise
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    3. American University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Science in Healthcare Management
      • Master of Science in Healthcare Management
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    4. Herzing University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MBA Dual Concentration: Project Management and Public Safety Leadership
      • MBA Dual Concentration: Healthcare Management and Public Safety Leadership
      • MBA Dual Concentration: Healthcare Management and Project Management
  • Online Programs Available
    5. Purdue University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Public Health
  • Online Programs Available
    6. Northcentral University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MS - Organizational Leadership: Health Care Administration
  • Online Programs Available
    7. Kaplan University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Public Health
      • M.S. in Health Education
      • Master of Healthcare Admin
    Bachelor's
      • Bachelor: Health Science
      • Bachelor: Healthcare Admin
    Associate's
      • AAS in Public Safety and Security
  • Online Programs Available
    8. Saint Joseph's University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MS in Health Administration
      • MS in Health Administration - Informatics
  • Online Programs Available
    9. Keiser University

    Program Options

    Bachelor's
      • B.A. - Health Services Admin
    Associate's
      • Associate of Arts - Health Services Admin
      • Associate of Sciences - Medical Assistant
  • Online Programs Available
    10. Utica College

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MBA - Health Care Management
      • Masters in Health Care Administration
      • Online Master of Science in Health Care Administration - Acute Care
      • Online Master of Science in Health Care Administration - Long Term Care
      • Online Master of Science in Health Care Administration - Service Organization

Featured Schools

George Mason University

  • Master of Science in Health Informatics

What is your highest level of education?

Johns Hopkins University

  • Post-Bachelor's Certificate in Biotechnology Enterprise

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American University

  • Master of Science in Healthcare Management

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Herzing University

  • MBA Dual Concentration: Project Management and Public Safety Leadership
  • MBA Dual Concentration: Healthcare Management and Public Safety Leadership
  • MBA Dual Concentration: Healthcare Management and Project Management

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Purdue University

  • Master of Public Health

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Northcentral University

  • MS - Organizational Leadership: Health Care Administration

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Kaplan University

  • Master of Public Health
  • Bachelor: Health Science
  • AAS in Public Safety and Security

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Saint Joseph's University

  • MS in Health Administration
  • MS in Health Administration - Informatics

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