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Higher Education is Linked to Higher Earnings for Health Care Professionals


A significant portion of the workforce is comprised of healthcare professionals. These individuals play a crucial role in not only the economy, but also society’s well-being. While surgeons and doctors demand specific knowledge and skills that only a medical degree can provide, a surprising number of healthcare workers don’t even hold bachelor’s degrees.

To be exact, a staggering 3.8 million professionals, or nearly half of the entire health care workforce in the country’s 100 largest metropolitan areas, are pre-baccalaureate, according to a recent report released by the Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program. A whopping 85% of these professionals are concentrated in more supportive or assistive clinical roles such as home health aides, personal care aides, medical assistants and licensed practical nurses. Since 2000, the number of workers in these jobs with an associate’s degree or less has surged by 46%, while the growth rate for jobs across all occupations only increased by 3%.

However, the vast majority of this growth was experienced by personal care aides and other occupations on the lower end of the salary spectrum. Their numbers spiked by a staggering 278% between 2000 and the period between 2009-11, but their salaries remained relatively flat. Meanwhile, average earnings among pre-baccalaureate workers across all industries and occupations dropped by 14%.

A Monetary Advantage

These are promising findings for those who want to pursue a certificate or associate’s-level education that will allow them to enter the healthcare workforce quickly. Still, there’s a notable financial incentive for hopeful healthcare professionals with a desire to pursue a higher degree.

Brookings revealed that workers with associate’s degrees or other post-secondary educational experience enjoy the highest earnings of pre-baccalaureate health care professionals at $60,000 and $52,000, respectively. That’s a significant difference in salary from personal care aids ($21,000) and nursing, psychiatric and home health aides ($25,000) with a high school diploma or less.

Other statistics support the notion that a higher level of education translates to a bigger paycheck. For example, a certified registered nurse anesthetist requires not only a bachelor’s degree, but also a graduate degree from an accredited nurse anesthesia educational program. These individuals are some of the highest paid professionals in the health care industry, earning an average of $163,573 annually, according to

Occupational therapists can earn around $75,400 yearly, but the minimum level of education for this job is also a graduate degree. Nurse practitioners, who reportedly earn around $89,960 on average, require at least a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN).

Conforming to Change

So what does this shift in educational demands mean for students and professionals who have yet to obtain a bachelor’s degree? Considering the ever-growing demand for health care professionals, educational institutions may need to alter their curricula accordingly.

“It is a dynamic moment for the health care industry, which is experiencing multiple pressures for change: expanded access, an aging population, technological advancements, cost-reduction imperatives, and most importantly, a call for improved health outcomes,” the report stated. “This creates an opportunity to upgrade the skills and increase the responsibilities of pre-baccalaureate workers to improve both the nature of the jobs and the performance of the health care system.”

In the conclusion of the Brookings report, the authors emphasized that while the value of pre-baccalaureate workers is often overlooked, they are crucial to the availability of cost-effective and high-quality health care, as well as ensuring patient satisfaction. As a result, they stressed that schools should adapt their programs “to meet the changing practices of health care delivery, to ensure that every member of the health care team contributes to the fullest extent of his or her training and capabilities.”


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