The Best Jobs
#1 Software Developer
Software developers invent the technologies that we sometimes take for granted every day. For instance, that app that rings, sings or buzzes you out of a deep sleep in the morning? A software developer helped design that. And when you roll into the office and turn on your computer, clicking and scrolling through social media, music and your personal calendar – software developers had a big hand in shaping those, too. You might spend your lunch shopping, and before you make that big purchase you check your bank account balance using your phone. Later, you’re cooking a new recipe from that great app your friend told you about. As you look over the course of your day, you come to see that software developers are the masterminds behind the technologies you now can’t imagine living without.
The best software developers are creative and have the technical expertise to carry out innovative ideas. You might expect software developers to sit at their desks designing programs all day – and they do, but their job involves many more responsibilities. They could spend their days working on a client project from scratch and writing new code. But they could also be tasked with maintaining or improving the code for programs that are already up and running. Software developers also check for bugs in software. And although the job does involve extreme concentration and chunks of uninterrupted time, software developers have to collaborate with others, including fellow developers, management or clients. Developers are often natural problem solvers who possess strong analytical skills and the ability to think outside the box.
Software developers are in high demand right now. They’re employed in a range of industries, including computer systems design, manufacturing and finance. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects more than 30 percent employment growth for software developers between 2016 and 2026, which is much faster than average for all occupations. In that period, an estimated 253,400 jobs will open up.
Dentists identify and treat problems concerning a patient’s mouth, gums and teeth. Their duties include extracting teeth, fitting dentures and filling cavities. Some choose to specialize in areas that range from treating serious oral problems and diseases to straightening teeth and performing oral surgeries. They are assisted by dental hygienists, who complete a patient’s teeth cleaning, and by dental assistants, who usually help with recordkeeping and instrument sterilization.
Many people dread the dentist. When they open wide, they’re afraid what the dentist will find. Yet another cavity? Or even worse – will it be time for a root canal? Will the dentist embarrass them about their flossing frequency or their coffee drinking? Will they push procedures that patients don’t want?
According to Ada S. Cooper, a consumer adviser for the American Dental Association and dentist with a private practice in New York City, these concerns are why establishing trust is so important. “Patients have to know that dentists are doing what’s best for them,” Cooper says. And they can do this by being honest, ethical and compassionate – three qualities Cooper looks for when she is hiring at her practice. She also highlights the importance of good communication skills.
The need for professionals to examine our teeth, and fill and – gulp – refill our cavities isn’t fading. And because more people want cosmetic treatments like teeth whitening, the demand for dentists is growing. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts employment growth of 17.5 percent between 2016 and 2026, with 23,200 new openings. A comfortable salary, low unemployment rate and agreeable work-life balance boost dentist to a top position on our list of Best Jobs.
#3 Physician Assistant
Physician assistants diagnose illnesses, develop and carry out treatment plans, assist in surgeries, perform procedures and guide patients. Their work is very similar to that of a general internist or doctor, but they are required by law to practice under the supervision of a licensed physician or surgeon.
Jeffrey Katz, president of the American Academy of Physician Assistants (AAPA), says, “I diagnose and treat patients, illnesses and diseases and counsel them on their path to wellness.”
Often, the physician or surgeon supervision is more like collaboration, but there are certain archaic regulations that make life for physician assistants – and their patients – difficult. “To give a real-life example of these arbitrary regulations, in my practice, I can write a patient a prescription for morphine,” Katz explains. “However by law, I cannot prescribe my diabetic patients diabetic shoes. Often, the stress comes in when PAs are not able to practice to the full extent of their training, education and ability.”
But the profession is filled with rewards that come from helping and treating patients. A 2015 AAPA study found that more than 96 percent would recommend their physician assistant career to others. Katz has worked in the same family practice in Taylorsville, North Carolina, for more than 20 years and has seen generations of families. “It is really cool to see the children of children. … I don’t think there’s any better gift,” he says.
Physician assistants are expected to continue to be an important part of providing health care services, as they can be trained more quickly than physicians but can provide some of the same services. From 2016 to 2026, the BLS projects that this field will grow at a rate of 37 percent, which will give way to 39,700 new jobs for physician assistants.
Best Paying Jobs
Anesthesiologists are the physicians responsible for administering general or regional anesthesia, which allows surgeons and other physicians to complete invasive procedures with little to no discomfort to the patient. Anesthesiologists also closely monitor a patient’s vital signs and critical life functions before, during and after a surgery – making rapid decisions on limited data when required. To say that the profession is stressful is an understatement.
More than 150 years ago, ether – the first anesthetic – was hailed the “greatest gift ever made to suffering humanity.” Today the drugs are different, but any woman who has experienced the excruciating pain of contractions followed by the amazing relief of an epidural will tell you that anesthesia remains one of the greatest gifts to humanity.
Anesthesia is often portrayed as going to sleep, but J.P. Abenstein, president of the American Society of Anesthesiologists and associate professor of Anesthesiology at the Mayo Medical School, explains that general anesthesia is more akin to a powerful drug-induced coma. Anesthesiologists typically administer a combination of intravenous drugs and inhaled gasses to render a patient unconscious and pain-free. For operations on the head, chest or abdomen, anesthesiologists also have to support a patient’s breathing with a breathing tube. So it’s no wonder that Abenstein describes the job like this: “An anesthesiologist keeps a patient alive during an invasive procedure that would otherwise kill them.”
Anesthesiologists may also employ sedation, in which medication is administered intravenously to calm the patient. With regional anesthesia, as opposed to general, anesthesiologists inject medications near a knot of nerves to prevent pain signals from traveling to the brain – in other words, numb a certain part of the body. Patients who are given regional anesthesia are awake, although they may also be sedated intravenously, which helps them relax, feel drowsy or even sleep, depending on the level of sedation.
Abenstein says the breadth of the profession has dramatically expanded in the last decade. Anesthesiologists still work in hospital operating rooms, but their expertise is also needed in other places, including invasive radiology, gastrointestinal endoscopy, electrophysiology and more. In fact, the profession is expected to grow by 18 percent through 2026, with 5,900 new jobs.
Surgeons operate on patients who suffer from injuries, diseases or deformities. These professionals can train toward becoming general surgeons, or they can choose a specialization, such as orthopedic, neurological, cardiovascular and plastic surgery.
“In the surgical specialty, there’s stress around the corner all the time, and you have to be prepared for that,” said Dr. Maria Siemionow, who in 2008 led a team of surgeons in a 22-hour surgery to replace the face of gunshot victim Connie Culp. This near-total face transplant was the first surgery of its kind in the U.S. Not only was Siemionow in charge of delegating responsibilities to a handful of surgeons, she was also attempting to do a procedure on a living person that had previously been done on cadavers only. Siemionow says she was subconsciously thinking about the patient’s family and the rescue plan, if the surgery were to take a bad turn. “We were working for an unknown outcome,” she says.
But after connecting the arteries and veins of the donor’s face with Culp’s own, the new face “pinked up” – a sign to the transplant team that the surgery was working. It was a groundbreaking moment.
Prospective surgeons should understand the gravity of the job they’re undertaking, but a sense of humor might be an imperative trait, too. When asked what first drew her to microsurgery – a surgery specialty that requires the use of an operating microscope – Siemionow gives a two-fold answer that shows both her seriousness and her sense of humor. First, it’s a good place to learn a lot. If someone has mastered the art of sewing and suturing arteries and veins under magnification, then he or she is skilled enough to sew and suture larger arteries and veins that don’t require microscopes. Second, it was the cool thing to do. “When I was finishing medical school, it was a popular field – it was generally the cool thing to do at the time,” she says. “Today, people are talking about in vitro fertilization and stem cell therapies – that’s the cool of now. [Back then,] if you were interested in surgery, you did microsurgery.”
The BLS predicts that this profession will grow by nearly 17 percent from 2016 to 2026, resulting in 7,600 new jobs. Aging baby boomers who might require extended and comprehensive medical procedures will precipitate the expected growth of jobs.
#3 Obstetrician and Gynecologist
Obstetricians and gynecologists bring new life into the world and care for the spectrum of women’s reproductive health. Obstetrics is the surgical field that deals in childbirth, whereas gynecology is the field of medicine concerned with women’s health, especially their reproductive health. One can be a gynecologist and not an obstetrician, though one cannot be an obstetrician without being a gynecologist. OB-GYNs see patients in physicians’ offices for routine “well-woman” exams, which could include contraceptive management and HPV screening.
Mark S. DeFrancesco, president of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, writes in an email, “You cannot imagine what it feels like to deliver a baby – to be the first person to hold another new life in your hands and help create a new family!”
They also assist patients who come to them with issues like abnormal bleeding. “To be able to accurately diagnose and successfully treat these problems is extremely gratifying,” DeFrancesco says. And of course, OB-GYNs also work in the labor and delivery section of hospitals, monitoring mothers and babies during labor and – when things don’t go as planned – making medical decisions to protect the lives of both.
Similar to other health care professions, obstetrics and gynecology is not without its stresses. According to DeFrancesco, OB-GYNs worry that they might have missed some problem or sign of illness, that an extremely rare tragedy will befall one of their labor and deliveries and that they might be sued for medical malpractice even if they made no mistakes. DeFrancesco says this field is especially vulnerable, since OB-GYN patients are predominantly young and presumably healthy. “When things go wrong, it is very unexpected,” he says.
Like other fields in medicine, DeFrancesco sees obstetrics and gynecology moving more toward preventing problems rather than just fixing them. “Studies show that the majority of women in childbearing years only see their OB-GYN on a regular basis and rarely seek out an otherwise designated primary care doctor,” he explains. So, who better to address health concerns than the OB-GYNs who see these patients regularly? “We are poised to go beyond the Pap test and the pelvic exam and provide more comprehensive care for our patients,” DeFrancesco says. “At least in terms of broader screening for other health conditions, as well as more directly addressing with our patients their weight and other lifestyle choices.”
Birthrate may affect the hiring demand for more obstetricians, but female baby boomers are still expected to visit gynecologists for a range of issues, and the BLS predicts steady growth, forecasting that the profession will grow 18 percent between 2016 and 2026. This should translate into about 3,900 new job openings.
Best Business Jobs
Statisticians practice the science of using data to make decisions. They decide what data they need and how to collect it, design experiments, collect data, analyze and interpret the data, and then report conclusions. And unlike most professions, statistics can be applied to a vast number of fields or issues, like the environment, public safety, health care and sports. As the famous mathematician and statistician John Tukey once told a colleague, “The best thing about being a statistician is that you get to play in everyone’s backyard.”
Devan Mehrotra, executive director of the biostatistics department at Merck Research Laboratories, says, “I absolutely fell in love with statistics. Any real-world problem almost always is going to require some data to be analyzed and interpreted, generating value-added solutions by using statistics.”
Going forward, Mehrotra sees statisticians working closely with collaborators from the biomedical, computer, environmental, genetics and social sciences, as well as contributing to quantitative solutions involving human rights and counterterrorism. “Statistics is one of oldest professions in the world, it dates back to the 1700s. There’s a tremendous history … and now more exciting opportunities. It has never been a better time to be a statistician,” Mehrotra says.
While some may confuse statisticians with the growing data scientist profession, the fields have some key differences. Statistics is just one component of data science. Data scientists should have a basic working knowledge of statistics. However, data scientists tend to focus more on software programming and machine learning than statisticians. Data scientists may serve as the lead software engineering coordinator at companies with smaller data science teams. Data scientists should possess the skills to log data, which is not necessarily expected of statisticians.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics expects this field to grow at a very fast rate of more than 33 percent from 2016 to 2026, resulting in 12,400 new jobs. Increasingly, industries and organizations will demand the use of statistical analyses to help them make informed decisions.
Actuarial science is a discipline that uses mathematics, statistics and financial theory to measure, manage and mitigate financial risk and uncertainty. Actuaries are essential to the insurance industry, and they’re increasingly finding niches in other businesses.
“When I was in college I was not interested in the actuarial field at all,” says Tonya Manning, the chief actuary at Buck Consultants, a Xerox Company. “It seemed boring. I had a vision of being in a dark room doing mortality tables.”
But after a serendipitous course of events, she ended up back in her small hometown looking for a job. She saw a job ad that stated, “We’ll hire math majors,” so she answered it. And it turns out the job was in the actuary field.
“I was all wrong. I was helping solve problems with financial risk, in my case with pension plans. There was so much variation from day to day. … It was a wonderful fit,” Manning says.
The BLS predicts that this profession will grow at a rate of 22 percent from 2016 to 2026, which will equate to 5,300 new job openings. Most actuaries are employed by the insurance industry, and their actuarial expertise will continue to be needed to evaluate insurance products.
A mathematician can be anyone from your middle school algebra teacher to a computer programmer. Some mathematicians primarily conduct research to explore and develop theories, while others are applied mathematicians who use theories and techniques to solve everyday problems. Theory is a huge part of a mathematician’s job. Mathematicians use formulas and models to support or refute theories. Data is also an important aspect in the field, as mathematicians analyze and interpret data for practical purposes, such as business, engineering or science decisions and problems. Common positions mathematicians fill include financial analysts, systems analysts, professors and elementary, middle and high school teachers.
“Teaching is the traditional path, but it certainly should not define us as mathematicians,” says Freda Porter, who previously taught math courses, including applied mathematics and calculus, at University of North Carolina at Pembroke and University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “I was pretty happy teaching. Very happy with just watching the lights go on with students.” However, she says, “I knew I needed something extra for myself.” Porter is now president and chief executive officer at Porter Scientific, an environmental consulting and professional services company in Pembroke, North Carolina.
The profession’s versatility also influences job growth. Individuals and companies continue to adapt to an age of innovative technology, increasingly operating business online and through social media, smartphones and other devices. Digitally stored data is growing, and companies will need mathematicians to analyze that data to improve processes, design and create products. During a time of uncertainty regarding cyber security, mathematicians will also be needed to help information security analysts develop data security systems. In short, though the field is small, it’s growing quickly. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts 900 new mathematician jobs by 2026, cropping up at a breakneck rate of 29 percent.
Best Social Services Jobs
A lawyer, at the most basic level, advises and represents individuals, businesses and government agencies in criminal or civil legal matters.
But the title “lawyer” can conjure contradictory notions. Are they the protectors of the afflicted, as “Law & Order” would have us believe? Or are they the crooks depicted in John Grisham’s “The Firm”? Are they the smooth-talking smarty-pants billing their clients gazillions of hours from ergonomic chairs inside their sleek offices? Or are they the safeguards of our futures, the ones we trust to administer our wills? Are they victims of a shortsighted public opinion? Or are they simply the butt of many bad jokes? The jury finds this case … complicated.
There’s a little truth and a lot of exaggeration in all these portrayals of lawyers. In many cases, lawyers at well-known firms do make a lot of money. But most put in a lot of time and effort to earn those handsome paychecks. District attorneys, like the ones depicted on TV, do prosecute those accused of committing heinous crimes. But there are some lawyers who never step foot in a courtroom or utter a single eloquent remark in front of a judge. Those types of lawyers sit at their desks with mountains of paperwork completing research or writing contracts.
Lawyers may work privately for big firms or small practices, or they may work publicly for the government. In the public sector, lawyers can find jobs as district attorneys or public defenders, or they could even work for the federal government. In the private sector, many lawyers seek jobs at big firms, where they’ll usually choose an area of specialty such as environmental law or tax, divorce or data privacy. And although the profession can involve a lot of time in a courthouse, it doesn’t always. Lawyers also spend a lot of time conducting meticulous research, analyzing prior cases, soliciting testimonies from witnesses and drawing up legal documents. Clients contact attorneys for any number of legal issues and rely on their firm knowledge of the law as well as their discretion. A lawyer’s work is often grueling, involving long hours at the office.
By 2026, the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects the profession will grow by 9 percent, which is higher than the average growth rate for all occupations. The BLS predicts 74,800 new jobs will open up by that time. While law firms will still be the biggest employers of lawyers, the BLS also finds that corporations will start hiring more of their own in-house lawyers to reduce costs.
#2 School Psychologist
School psychologists identify, diagnose and treat students with learning disabilities, mental disorders and other behavioral, cognitive or emotional problems. They also develop plans for addressing these issues and refer students to other mental health resources when necessary.
Their job duties are varied. These mental health professionals might help students, such as high school seniors applying to colleges, manage stress. They might role-play with students on the autism spectrum. Or, they might counsel and refer a student who has expressed suicidal thoughts. They also might discuss a student’s anxiety and depression issues with a concerned parent. And these professionals must handle a copious amount of documentation and paperwork.
Pamela Agan-Smith, a school psychologist, has worked with students in the Greenville Central School District in Greenville, New York, for more than 30 years, and says the biggest issues facing her students these days involve mental health. “Public school students face a pretty stressful environment,” she notes. For some students, this stress morphs into suicidal thoughts, anxiety and depression, and school psychologists are the point person in addressing these concerns.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that this profession will grow at a rate of 14 percent between 2016 and 2026, which will equate to 20,900 new jobs for school psychologists. A heightened awareness of mental health’s connection to learning and the rising need of mental health services in schools are driving the demand for more school psychologists. However, this demand is tempered by state and local funding for schools, which is inadequate in some cases.
#3 Patrol Officer
Much of being a patrol officer involves the tedium of writing reports and updating records. When you’re not behind a desk, you’ll be on patrol, making your presence known in the community and responding to incident reports. Hollywood has generated a wildly romantic image of the police officer’s life. The reality, depending on where you work and for whom, is probably somewhere between Dirty Harry and Barney Fife.
There is clearly a public service element to the job that you could reasonably call heroic, but there’s also a cost to your personal life. Officers work long hours and suffer high rates of job-related injury. Still, for those with the right character, the protect-and-serve profession can be very rewarding.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that 47,800 new positions will be added by 2026, and employment growth for patrol officers will reach 7 percent, which is as fast as the average for all occupations. Demand for patrol officers will vary by location and will largely depend on local and state budgets. However, there will always be a need for officers to protect citizens and keep communities safe.