According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the healthcare sector is expected to grow by 18 percent — or 2.4 million jobs — between 2016 and 2026, making it the largest growing field in the country. Although a lot of the positions included in these projections are for those with higher-level degrees, many of the jobs that are expected to see growth can be earned with a bachelor's degree or lower.

Whether people want to provide treatment in fast-paced emergency settings, help patients with mental health issues or assist those who are recovering from an injury, there is something for everyone who wants to enter the field. Continue reading for more information on the top healthcare careers that people can pursue after earning an undergraduate degree.

Healthcare is a vast field, big enough to accommodate a myriad of medical interests. Below we have outlined some of the best careers in the medical field, specifically those that have an entry-level education at the undergraduate level. Not only are these high paying healthcare careers, but their level of required education also makes them some of the most accessible healthcare careers in the field.

To judge healthcare careers for this ranking, we collected data from the BLS and from O*NET Online, and used it to analyze careers based on factors such as annual salaries, the conditions that professionals work in, the skills and abilities required, and the number of available job opportunities.

1. Acute Care Nurses


Across America, states such as California are making an effort to attract acute care nurses to their healthcare facilities. Some facilities offer signing bonuses, while others may offer to cover moving expenses or even a few months of housing payments in order to bring on ideal candidates.

Why are facilities offering such perks for acute care nurses? The answer is, it can be a big problem for communities if the demand for these professionals is not met. These nurses are responsible for providing the advanced care that patients need after suffering from acute health problems such as a heart attack, shock or a respiratory emergency. Acute health issues can be very serious indeed, and as such, treating them quickly and comprehensively is very important.

In order to treat their patients, acute care nurses perform duties such as delivering advanced life support, administering medications to sedate patients or manage their pain, and analyzing data to determine what urgent medical problems patients have and how they can be treated.

2. Registered Nurses


Healthcare facilities around the country are experiencing a shortage of registered nurses (RNs), and California and Alaska are among the states that are being hit the hardest. To address this problem, schools are working to ramp up the recruitment of prospective nurses and to reduce wait times for entering nursing degree programs. It is important for schools to be able to educate more candidates more quickly without sacrificing quality of education, as RNs must be well-trained in their job duties — such as updating patient records, administering medication, and preparing and sterilizing medical equipment. In order to keep these standards high, RN degree programs usually focus on coursework in health assessment, nursing research, medical ethics and community health nursing.

One of the big positives to becoming an RN is the multiple opportunities for future advancement. After gaining experience as an RN, professionals can earn certifications such as the Certified Pediatric Nurse from the Pediatric Nursing Certification Board; the HIV/AIDS Certified Registered Nurse (ACRN) designation provided by the HIV/AIDS Nursing Certification Board; or the National Board of Certification and Recertification for Nurse Anesthetists' Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist credential. Becoming certified allows nurses to specialize in fields that interest them and often comes with benefits such as increased salaries and better job security.

3. Critical Care Nurses


When someone is fighting for their life after an accident or illness, critical care nurses are on the front lines working alongside doctors and other healthcare professionals to help them get through it. Some of the job duties of these workers include assisting doctors as they perform operations, providing post-operative care and working with doctors to create treatment plans. In order to be successful in this position, professionals need to hone several skills in addition to their nursing knowledge, including the ability to think critically, communicate effectively and show compassion to patients and families as they go through difficult health crises. In addition, critical care nurses must have the ability to remain calm under pressure and think fast on their feet as they work with the medical team to find solutions for emergency situations.

Critical care nursing jobs can be exciting, but extremely demanding, so while some people can earn a position after obtaining an entry-level nursing education, many employers expect their workers to have a bachelor's degree or even a master's. These professionals can also deepen their understanding of this nursing specialty by obtaining a Certified Critical Care Nurse (CCRN) credential through the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses. In order to qualify for this certification (which can look very appealing on a resume), applicants must have at least 1,750 hours of caring for critically and acutely ill patients.

4. Advanced Practice Psychiatric Nurses


Nurses who want to focus on contributing to the health and well-being of patients with mental health challenges can become an advanced practice psychiatric nurse in order to work with patients who have a variety of illnesses, including schizophrenia, depression, anxiety and addiction. This is a challenging job that includes duties such as providing psychotherapy on an individual or group level; conducting assessments in order to determine a diagnosis; creating patient treatment plans and adjusting them accordingly; and ordering and interpreting diagnostic tests. In addition, professionals who pursue psychiatric nursing should have strong problem solving, critical thinking, monitoring and communication skills to handle the rigors of the job and build a long-term career in this specialty.

Advanced practice psychiatric nurses may work in hospitals, nursing homes and public health agencies. They are generally required to work long hours, which often include nights, weekends and holidays, as well as remain on call during their time off. However, the job can be both satisfying and fascinating. Patients' minds can work in a million different ways, and the assistance and treatments these professionals offer them can be instrumental in changing their lives for the better.

5. Licensed Practical and Licensed Vocational Nurses


Licensed vocational nurses, or LVNs (as they are known in California and Texas), and licensed practical nurses, or LPNs (as they are known in the rest of the U.S.), provide care to patients under the supervision of doctors and other nurses. As possibly the most accessible and least stressful nursing career, it can be an excellent choice for those who are just starting out in healthcare, or those who aren't sure if the field is suited for them.

These professionals perform a variety of duties, including providing wound care, monitoring patients' condition and recording any changes in their records, collecting samples to be tested and preparing the equipment used by physicians. In addition, these professionals are responsible for tasks that help make patients comfortable, including making beds and ensuring that hospital rooms are clean, bathing and dressing people, and listening to them as they vent their concerns.

In order to pursue these jobs, students are required to study areas such as nutrition, pharmacology, disease and nursing leadership during their training programs. Subsequent to completing their education, graduates must pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-PN) in order to get a license.

6. Respiratory Therapists


Respiratory therapists treat patients who have breathing problems, such as those who suffer from emphysema, asthma and cystic fibrosis. In addition, these workers may also help patients who are dealing with an emergency related to breathing, such as in incidents involving drowning or choking, as well as those who have had a heart attack. Some of the specific job duties for this career include performing tests in order to diagnose patients, analyzing lab work and x-rays, working with patients' primary care doctors to develop appropriate treatment plans, and educating patients about what they should be doing at home to have positive health outcomes. Respiratory therapy may be particularly well-suited to those who relish improving the quality of life of others, as many respiratory therapists stated in this article from the American Association for Respiratory Care.

In most states, respiratory therapists are required to earn a license in order to work. These credentials, which are issued by the National Board for Respiratory Care, are the Registered Respiratory Therapist (RRT) and the Certified Respiratory Therapist (CRT).

7. Athletic Trainers


Athletic trainers work in conjunction with physicians in order to assess, diagnose and treat people with injuries and illnesses that affect their muscles and bones. They are responsible for helping to prevent these problems by applying tape, bandages and braces to those at risk of injuries to their fingers, wrists or ankles, as well as by administering first aid and planning fitness routines for safety and efficiency (or for rehabilitation, depending on the client). Athletic trainers may also be responsible for creating patient records and writing reports about how patients are progressing in their treatment.

Although they may be able to start their careers with a bachelor's degree, employers are increasingly expecting athletic trainers to have a graduate-level education. In addition, workers in most states are required to obtain a license, which can be earned by passing the Board of Certification for the Athletic Trainer (BOC) examination. These professionals can often find employment at fitness centers, hospitals and doctor's offices. Some athletic trainers may even work on a contract basis with law enforcement, professional sports teams and/or performing artists.

8. Diagnostic Medical Sonographers


When patients need to find out if they are suffering from a disease, or even learn the sex of their unborn baby, they obtain this information thanks to the work of diagnostic medical sonographers, who use medical devices to create images of internal organs. People in this profession may find employment at diagnostic laboratories, doctor's offices or hospitals, and depending on where they are employed, they may be expected to work weekends or evenings.

There are several types of diagnostic medical sonographers who specialize in different areas of the body. For example, obstetric and gynecologic sonographers work with pregnant women and track the development of their baby. Cardiac sonographers create echocardiograms, which are images of the valves, vessels and chambers of the heart, in order to diagnose cardiac conditions. And abdominal sonographers create images of patients' spleen, gall bladder, liver and kidney to help diagnose problems in the abdominal region.

9. Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Workers


Healthcare professionals who want to contribute to solving the nation's opioid crisis, as well as other addiction issues that people face, may consider becoming mental health and substance abuse social workers. Whether the people they work with are addicted to street drugs, pharmaceuticals, alcohol or tobacco, these clinicians are trained to help them with the physical, mental and emotional problems associated with addiction.

In order to do this, mental health and substance abuse social workers perform assessments in order to evaluate patients, create a treatment plan and monitor the results. In addition, these professionals provide counseling that not only addresses the addiction, but also the other problems that may come with it, such as poverty, mental illness, abuse and unemployment. It is a career choice that might ring particularly true to someone who has personally struggled with addiction, or who has watched a friend or family member do so.

10. Dietitians and Nutritionists


Anyone who has a strong interest in food may be interested in pursuing a career as a dietitian or a nutritionist, in order to help people improve their health by improving what, when and how they eat. People who work as dietitians and nutritionists are responsible for getting information about patients' eating habits in order to determine their dietary needs; developing meal plans for people to follow; and tracking and documenting how they are doing following their recommendations.

In addition, dietitians and nutritionists also help to promote healthy food choices in their communities. They are often involved in activities such as creating educational materials for distribution and speaking at events about the relationship between food and good health. Also, these professionals may conduct research to expand the field's knowledge base and deepen people's understanding of food.

The difference between dietitians and nutritionists is a matter of certification. Dietitians must become registered with the Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR), while nutritionists do not need to be certified. This makes becoming a nutritionist easier, but also means that the dietitian career carries with it a respect and legitimacy that nutritionists do not, which may lead to better and more secure opportunities in the long run.

Best States For Healthcare Undergraduates

Healthcare workers have many opportunities around the country. However, there are four areas in particular that are the best places for these professionals to work: California, the District of Columbia, Hawaii and Alaska. Let's take a look at why these are places where healthcare professionals are thriving.

If you're interested in more information on a particular state, check out our state section, where you can learn more about top industries in each state; browse the best online colleges in the state, which may be able to help you earn a healthcare career; and learn about initiatives that can help out-of-state students, in case you want to learn from an online college for healthcare in one of these particular states.

The medical profession in California is a multi-billion dollar industry, which makes it the Golden State's largest sector. In addition, another one of the most thriving industries in California is the technology sector, which is creating innovations that can help medical professionals treat patients more effectively and efficiently. These factors mean that there are not only an abundance of job opportunities in the state, but also that there are many exciting, state-of-the-art technologies for medical professionals to take advantage of in their work.

Washington, D.C. is home to over a dozen hospitals and medical centers — including St. Elizabeth's Hospital, Howard University Hospital and MedStar Washington Hospital Center — which means there are many opportunities for healthcare workers to find employment in the area. In fact, the healthcare industry employs almost 60,000 workers who are responsible for patient care — mostly found in ambulatory care companies, hospitals and residential care centers — as well as workers who are involved in the biomedical research side of the field at organizations like Medimmune and Qiagen.

According to Hawaii's Department of Business, Economic Development & Tourism, the healthcare industry employed almost 65,000 workers around the state in 2018, primarily in nursing homes and hospitals. With a number of healthcare facilities like Adventist Health Castle, Hawaii State Hospital, Maunalani Nursing and Rehabilitation Center and Hilo Medical Center, there are many possible opportunities for medical professionals to find a job in Hawaii.

Alaska has a diverse healthcare landscape, with medical care being offered at private sector centers, tribal health facilities and the military and veterans affairs systems. This gives healthcare professionals a lot of choices of what kind of environment they want to work in, in additional to what type of career they want to pursue.