Best Jobs in Healthcare in 2021

If you ask 10 people to give a definition for the “best job” in healthcare, you’ll probably get 10 different responses.

Some will focus on job satisfaction, while others will focus on earning potential. Some will talk about work–life balance. Still others may choose to highlight the demand for people with those particular skills and the job opportunities available to them.

Often, those best jobs in healthcare turn out to be the ones that hit the sweet spot of providing meaningful work with an equally meaningful paycheck.

In recent years, you could pretty much expect a certain level of demand for many healthcare jobs, including physicians, nurses and advanced practitioners. In fact, these jobs have consistently ranked high on the annual list compiled by U.S. News and World Report of the Best Jobs in America. Then in 2020, everything got upended with the coronavirus pandemic. And the pandemic continues.

So, what will 2021 bring? What will those “best jobs in healthcare” be in 2021?

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Adjusting expectations in the wake of the pandemic

How has the pandemic affected the demand for certain types of healthcare professionals as we move forward into 2021?

“I think we’re still trying to figure that out,” said Jean Moore, DrPH, FAAN, director of the Health Workforce Technical Assistance Center at the University at Albany, SUNY in New York.

“I would say, generally, the pandemic just exacerbated already existing supply/demand issues,” says Bianca Frogner, PhD, director of the University of Washington’s Center for Health Workforce Studies.

Some issues healthcare employers must address:

  • What kind of staff will hospitals and healthcare organizations need as the pandemic continues?
  • Will retirements accelerate and make existing shortages more severe?
  • Will burnout drive more healthcare professionals out of the workforce?
  • What will work schedules and job demands look like in the months ahead?

  • “Depending on the setting, hiring staff with experience delivering services or facilitating service delivery using some kind of telehealth technology will be important,” predicted Susan Skillman, MS, senior deputy director of the University of Washington’s Center for Health Workforce Studies. “Updated infection control skills will, of course, be essential.”

    Moore said she also expects to see continued demand for professionals who can help an aging population manage their chronic health conditions. People may also need care for chronic conditions that develop as result of COVID-19, too. And that means turning to primary care providers that include physicians, nurse practitioners and physician assistants.

    A look at some top healthcare jobs with projected demand

    Although some uncertainties remain with regard to the pandemic’s effect, here’s a look at some of the Best Jobs in Healthcare for 2021, as defined by U.S. News, and how these jobs are projected to experience an increase in demand—both for permanent positions and locum tenens jobs.

    Physician assistants 
    It typically takes just over two years to complete a physician assistant training program, and that may well be two years well spent. According to the American Academy of Physician Assistants, most students have a bachelor’s degree and about three years of healthcare experience before entering a PA program.

    Physician assistants, or PAs, grabbed the No. 1 spot on the list of 2021 Best Healthcare Jobs as well as the overall list of Best Jobs in America. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) is predicting a 31 percent increase in employment for PAs between 2019 and 2029.

    Nurse practitioners 
    Nurse practitioners (NPs) can look forward to a bright future, as well.

    U.S. News awarded the No. 2 spot on the Best Healthcare Jobs list to nurse practitioners. These master’s- or doctorate-prepared advanced practice registered nurses can expect to enjoy significant employment growth over the next eight years, according to projections from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). In fact, the BLS forecasts employment growth for NPs around 28 percent between 2018 and 2028.  

    Ranked No. 3 on the Best Healthcare Jobs in 2021 list, physicians of course play a pivotal role in the healthcare system, and will continue to be an area of need.

    The nation’s ongoing physician shortage is expected to continue. A 2020 report from the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) predicts that the United States could experience a shortage of as many as 139,000 physicians by 2033. The study forecasted a shortage that could range between 54,100 and 139,000 doctors and will include both primary care and specialty physicians.

    Dentists grabbed the No. 5 spot on the list of Best Healthcare Jobs in 2021, thanks in part to a healthy job market, high compensation and an extremely low unemployment rate. Dentists made a median salary of $155,600 in 2019, while the best-paid 25 percent made an average of $208,000 that year.

    The BLS projects 2.8 percent employment growth for dentists between 2019 and 2029. In that period, an estimated 3,700 jobs should open up. 

    Physicians specializing in anesthesiology were ranked No. 8 on this year’s list of top healthcare jobs from U.S. News. With a median salary of $208,000 and a consistent need for their services, both before and during the andemic, anesthesiologists are still expected to see just a 0.5 percent employment growth rate between 2019 and 2029. 

    This slower job growth is likely due to the growth in jobs for certified registered nurse anesthetists (CRNAs) who provide anesthesia services at lower salary rates, although they require more supervision. CRNAs are being used more frequently to expand the reach of anesthesia care teams.  

    Other healthcare professionals rounding out the list of the top 15 healthcare jobs in 2021 include:

  • Speech-language pathologists – ranked No. 4
  • Veterinarians – ranked No. 6
  • Orthodontists – ranked No. 7
  • Oral and maxillofacial surgeons – ranked No. 9
  • Occupational therapists – ranked No. 10
  • Physical therapists – ranked No. 11
  • Psychiatrists – ranked No. 12
  • Prosthodontists – ranked No. 13
  • Registered nurses – ranked No. 14
  • Nurse anesthetists – ranked No. 15

  • While physicians, advanced practitioners, nurses and respiratory therapists may have experienced more direct changes in their daily work this past year, it seems that every healthcare practitioner was affected in some way by the pandemic. Only time will tell what the long-term effects will be on these professions.

    What’s the forecast for locum tenens?

    Could the best job in healthcare in 2021 be a temporary one, like a locum tenens job?

    Many locum physicians and advanced practitioners enjoy the flexibility of choosing where and when they want to work, and being able to help out in areas where they were especially needed. Locums are also paid very well for what they do, and can take advantage of free housing, paid travel and other benefits.

    During 2020, a number of organizations scrambled to hire locum tenens, travel nurses and other temporary staff to fill their rosters as the pandemic surged. Researchers are interested in tracking whether healthcare organizations will continue to need to hire temporary staff in 2021 at similar rates.

    “Some of this will also depend on how well we do with ensuring our healthcare workers remain healthy and well and not burned out, as the pandemic goes on,” said Frogner.

    The Best Jobs in Healthcare for 2020 

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