Comparison of Earnings in Other Health Professions

The experience in other health professions reveals how different levels of education relate to lifetime earnings. There are important roles for 2- and 4-year degree-holders, for master’s and doctoral graduates, and for those who have substantial postdoctoral training. The Bureau of Labor Statistics produces its Occupational Outlook Handbook every two years and it is the most readily available source of information on careers. The Bureau gathers data on many professions using standard methods so that information on earnings and educational requirements can be compared. That information is supplemented with the annual Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) survey. Together with the Handbook, the median earnings for health occupations reported in the OES survey gives a picture of the relationship between education and earnings in an array of health professions (see Figure 10-5).

Two-year associate degrees are inexpensive because they require less time of students and are generally offered by colleges that operate at modest cost per student. Holders of associate degrees, on the average, earn a substantial return on their investment in education as measured by the gain in earnings compared with those of typical high-school graduates. In the health professions, 2-year programs that produce registered nurses (RNs) yield very high returns. About three-fourths of new RNs enter their profession with associate degrees. In 2010, RNs had median earnings of $64,688 (BLS, 2011). Another occupation that usually begins with a 2-year degree is that of a dental hygienist. The median earning of hygienists in 2010 was $68,425.

FIGURE 10-5 Median career earnings in the health profession. NOTE: DVM = Doctor of Veterinary Medicine; ACLAM=Diplomate, American College of Laboratory Animal Medicine; MD = Medical Doctor. SOURCE: BLS, 2011 and MGMA, 2011.

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