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Healthcare Occupations: Characteristics of the Employed

Healthcare professionals attending to a patient in the emergency room
June 2023
Healthcare Occupations: Characteristics of the Employed

Sean Smith and Andrew Blank

The healthcare field has some of the fastest growing occupations in the United States. But what are the demographic characteristics of workers in healthcare occupations? Which healthcare occupations have the greatest share of self-employed workers, or the largest share of workers in the public sector? How about the average hours of work per week for people in a particular healthcare occupation?

This Spotlight on Statistics examines the demographic and job characteristics of the 25 largest healthcare occupations as measured by employment in over 50 detailed occupations in the healthcare field. Healthcare occupations vary widely in terms of skills and formal education required. They include healthcare practitioners such as physicians, registered nurses, laboratory technicians, and pharmacists; and people who provide healthcare support, such as nursing assistants, personal care aides, and home health aides.

Healthcare employment accounts for 9.3 percent of total employment

In 2022, 14.7 million people age 16 and older were employed in healthcare occupations, accounting for 9.3 percent of total employment. The largest of these occupations was registered nurses, who numbered 3.4 million in 2022, or more than 1 out of every 5 healthcare workers. Personal care aides (1.4 million) and nursing assistants (1.2 million) held the number two and three spots in terms of the sheer number of healthcare workers. Altogether, employment in the top 25 healthcare occupations represented more than four-fifths of the 14.7 million people working in the healthcare field.

Educational attainment varies across healthcare occupations

Educational attainment—based on the highest diploma or degree earned and presented here for people age 25 and older—varies across healthcare occupations. Among healthcare occupations with lower levels of educational attainment, 60 percent of home health aides, 49 percent of personal care aides, and 47 percent of nursing assistants had a high school diploma or less; this compares with 31 percent for all workers age 25 and older.

Among healthcare occupations with higher levels of educational attainment, all physicians and nearly all nurse practitioners held advanced degrees (master's, professional, and doctoral degrees) in 2022. A high percentage of speech-language pathologists (92 percent) also held advanced degrees. By contrast, only 17 percent of all employed people age 25 and older in the nation held advanced degrees.

About 8 in 10 workers in healthcare occupations are women

In 2022, about 8 in 10 workers in all healthcare occupations were women, much higher than for overall employment, where women made up nearly one-half of all employed workers.

Healthcare occupations with particularly high concentrations of women included speech-language pathologists (98 percent), dental hygienists (96 percent), dental assistants (94 percent), and nursing assistants (90 percent).

In contrast, women were slightly underrepresented among physicians (44 percent).

Age varies across healthcare occupations

In 2022, 12 percent of all workers were 16 to 24 years old. Among the largest 25 healthcare occupations, 22 percent of veterinary technologists and technicians, and 22 percent of pharmacy technicians were 16 to 24 years old, the largest shares for this age group. A substantial share of medical assistants (21 percent), dental assistants (18 percent), and nursing assistants (18 percent) were also in this younger age category. All of these occupations generally require less educational attainment than many other healthcare occupations, such as dentists, physicians, and nurse practitioners—occupations that typically require advanced degrees. (See chart 4.)

Nearly two-thirds of all workers were in the prime working ages of 25 to 54 in 2022. Among the largest 25 healthcare occupations, physician assistants (88 percent) contained the largest share of 25- to 54-year-old workers. Nurse practitioners (83 percent), speech-language pathologists (80 percent), pharmacists (79 percent), physical therapists (78 percent), and occupational therapists (78 percent) also had a sizeable share of workers that were 25 to 54 years old.   

The share of home health aides who were ages 55 years and older was much larger than that of all workers in the nation (36 percent, compared with 24 percent). Personal care aides (33 percent), medical records specialists (30 percent), and physicians (28 percent) also had large shares of workers who were ages 55 years and older.

Healthcare occupations by race and ethnicity

In 2022, more than 9 in 10 speech-language pathologists were White. Healthcare occupations that also had large shares of Whites were veterinary technologists and technicians (83 percent), occupational therapists (80 percent), dental hygienists (79 percent), physical therapists (79 percent), and physician assistants (78 percent). In 2022, about 6 in 10 workers in all occupations were White.

Among the largest 25 healthcare occupations in 2022, physicians (22 percent), pharmacists (19 percent), and clinical laboratory technologists and technicians (15 percent) had the largest shares of workers who were Asian. By comparison, Asians made up 6 percent of all employed people in the nation.

In 2022, 34 percent of nursing assistants, 29 percent of licensed practical and licensed vocational nurses, and 28 percent of home health aides were Black. Other healthcare occupations with large shares of Black workers were personal care aides (25 percent) and other healthcare support workers (23 percent, which includes orthotic and prosthetic aides). By comparison, Black workers accounted for 12 percent of employment in all occupations.

Hispanics made up 19 percent of total employment in all occupations in 2022, but accounted for relatively large shares of medical assistants (33 percent), home health aides (29 percent), and dental assistants (28 percent).

Foreign born make up a large share of home health aides, personal care aides, and physicians

In 2022, 18 percent of all employed people in the nation were foreign born. Relative to their share of employment overall, the foreign born were overrepresented among home health aides (40 percent), personal care aides (28 percent), and physicians (27 percent). Among the 25 largest healthcare occupations, speech-language pathologists (2 percent), veterinary technologists and technicians (5 percent), occupational therapists (6 percent), and medical records specialists (6 percent) had the smallest shares of foreign-born workers.

Massage therapists had high shares of self-employment in 2022

In 2022, about 1 in 10 workers in the nation were self-employed among all occupations. Among the 25 largest healthcare occupations, 42 percent of massage therapists were self-employed. In addition, 22 percent of therapists, all other—an occupational group that includes art therapists, hydrotherapists, and music therapists—were self-employed in 2022. Physicians had a self-employment rate of 12 percent in 2022. Clinical laboratory technologists and technicians and pharmacy technicians are excluded from this chart because their self-employment numbers are effectively zero.

Nearly half of speech-language pathologists worked in the public sector

Nearly half of speech-language pathologists were employed in the public sector in 2022. This large share (45 percent) reflects the fact that many speech-language pathologists work in schools. Similarly, dietitians and nutritionists (25 percent) and personal care aides (20 percent) also were more likely to be employed in the public sector than workers overall. In 2022, 15 percent of all workers were employed in the public sector.

Physicians averaged the most hours at work per week

Physicians worked an average of 47.9 hours per week in 2022. Physicians often work weekends, have long shifts, and can be called in to cover emergency situations. Nurse practitioners and physician assistants each averaged 40.1 hours worked per week, while workers overall worked an average of 38.6 hours per week. Among the 25 largest healthcare occupations, massage therapists (30.0) and dental hygienists (32.9) worked the fewest hours per week.

More Information

Sean Smith is an economist and Andrew Blank is a former economist in the Office of Employment and Unemployment Statistics, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. For questions about this Spotlight on Statistics, email

Data are from the Current Population Survey, a nationally representative monthly survey of approximately 60,000 eligible households. The CPS is the official source of labor force statistics for the United States. Data from monthly CPS surveys can be combined to produce more detailed annual average estimates, which are presented in this Spotlight. The CPS does not include people living in institutions or those on active duty in the Armed Forces. All estimates are annual averages and are based on worker’s sole or primary jobs. Estimates are for people ages 16 and older, except for educational attainment figures, which are for those ages 25 and older.

Occupation data in this Spotlight are based on the 2018 Census occupational classification system, which is derived from the 2018 Standard Occupational Classification system. The 2018 Census occupational classification system contains two broad occupational groups for healthcare: healthcare practitioners and technical occupations, and healthcare support occupations. Occupations displayed in this Spotlight cannot be defined more finely in the CPS even though some of the groups contain different jobs. For example, cardiologists, dermatologists, general internal medicine physicians, and psychiatrists are combined in the occupational group “other physicians.” In this Spotlight, this occupational group is referred to as “physicians.” For more information, see occupational and industry classifications used in the CPS.

In this Spotlight, data for Hispanics or Latinos were tabulated separately from Whites, Blacks or African Americans, and Asians. This departs from the usual CPS practice that include Hispanics or Latinos among the major race groups. The category “All other races” includes American Indians and Alaska Natives, Native Hawaiians and Other Pacific Islanders, and people categorized as being of Two or More Races.

In this Spotlight, data for the self-employed refer to both those whose businesses were incorporated and those whose businesses were unincorporated. This departs from the usual practice that includes the self-employed whose businesses were incorporated among wage and salary workers.

We also have more information about key CPS concepts and definitions.