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  3. Want to help others? These are the most rewarding careers
Want to help others? These are the most rewarding careers

Want to help others? These are the most rewarding careers

Artwork by: Katya Vakulenko

  • Firefighter: the childhood dream of many
  • Physical therapists: giving people back their lives
  • Dentists: relieving pain with a flexible schedule
  • Veterinarians: doctors for your pets and other animals
  • Therapists: enabling people to live their best lives
  • Key takeaways

High-paying management positions can leave you feeling disconnected from the people you’re assisting, while certain jobs in public service industries can be highly stressful. The following careers, however, can be personally enriching while also making a huge difference in people’s lives.

Far too often, job-seekers in the modern economy have to choose between getting jobs that pay decently, getting jobs that aren’t stressful, and getting jobs that unambiguously make the world a brighter, fairer place. Even jobs at non-profits or charitable initiatives can be disheartening if you’re only interacting with co-workers, spreadsheets, and voices on the other end of a phone.

That said, some careers manage to be rewarding in both the monetary and emotional sense. These sorts of careers frequently share the following characteristics:

  • They offer decent pay and a healthy range of benefits

  • Their day-to-day work schedule isn’t overly stressful or frustrating

  • Your day-to-day responsibilities directly change people’s lives for the better

  • You can directly interact with the people or communities you help

The following careers, among others, have many of the characteristics listed above and can be very personally rewarding as a result:

  • Firefighter

  • Physical Therapist

  • Dentist

  • Veterinarian

  • Therapist

Read on to find out why these roles can be satisfying and rewarding while paying well. 

Firefighter: the childhood dream of many

At some point in their youth, kids want to be astronauts, superheroes, or firefighters when they grow up. Of all the classic dream jobs you can land, the position of firefighter is accessible to many, though qualifying to be a firefighter is no walk in the park. 

In many parts of the world, job-seekers pursuing a firefighter career need to pass courses at a firefighter’s academy and become certified as an EMT (Emergency Medical Technician). They must have the physical conditioning needed to lift heavy weights and move around with firefighter regalia on. They also need the discipline to coordinate with their colleagues, the patience to work day-long shifts, and the skills needed to make sound decisions under stressful scenarios such as fires, natural disasters, medical crises, or car accidents.

Despite the stressful, high stakes crises firefighters can get involved in, many firefighters report high levels of job satisfaction thanks to the tight-knit bonds between squads and the literal life-saving work they do - not just rescuing people from danger, but also minimizing damage to property that’s essential for a person’s livelihood. The consistent respect firefighters receive from the public and the people they help can also be very validating. 

Physical therapists: giving people back their lives

Doctors and nurses who treat multiple patients during their hospital shifts often lack the time and energy to address a patient’s needs holistically. Physical therapists, in contrast, work with individual patients on a long-term basis, creating custom-fit treatment plans and supporting them throughout their recovery from surgeries or chronic medical conditions.

To be a physical therapist, you’ll generally need to have a bachelor’s degree, a Doctorate in Physical Therapy earned through roughly three years of study, and any physical therapy certifications mandated by local associations or state agencies. Often, physical therapists will specialize in a specific field of rehab such as:

  • Motor function 

  • Disability prevention

  • Recover from injury or surgery  

  • Treating chronic illness

Core to all disciplines of physical therapy is treating a patient’s pain and helping them recover lost or diminished functionality. This long-term process requires physical therapists to cultivate emotional intelligence and an impressive amount of soft communication skills, consulting patients during procedures, workouts, and check-ins to learn how a patient feels and adjust their rehab program accordingly. 

Statistical Insight

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics website, the median Physical Therapist earns around $95,620 annually. Additionally, the number of employed physical therapists is projected to grow by 17% between 2021 and 2031.

One of the most rewarding parts of working as a physical therapist is getting to see your patient overcome pain, regain body functionality, and ultimately leave the hospital or clinic to resume doing the things they love. Physical therapists also tend to have better work-life balance than other medical professionals, free to work out rehab schedules with their patients that don’t disrupt their personal lives in stressful ways.

Dentists: relieving pain with a flexible schedule

The position of dentist has a very, very high barrier to entry, requiring an undergraduate degree and years of study to earn a Doctors in Dentistry or Dental Surgery. A dentist who opens their own private practice will need to master a wide range of skills that include, but aren’t limited to:

  • Operating X-Ray machines

  • Checking/cleaning teeth and gums

  • Applying anesthetics

  • Administering antibiotics and other medicines

  • Removing/repairing decay, cavities or broken teeth

  • First Aid and CPR

Once you’re qualified to work as a dentist, you’re practically set for life thanks to a high average annual income. Dentists who run their own practice or work with other dentists in a group practice also have a lot of control over their personal schedule, generally free to arrange appointments that fit their needs and the needs of their clients.

Besides the good pay and flexible schedules mentioned above, dentistry work can be very rewarding thanks to the many ways you can help your patients. Whether through cleaning teeth or filling cavities, your procedures will grant people relief from pain, make it easier to eat food, and literally brighten their smiles in a validating way. Dental science can also be a fascinating art in its own right, full of intricacies and subtleties that are rewarding to master.

Veterinarians: doctors for your pets and other animals

When most people think of veterinarians, they picture medical professionals who work in clinics and care for household pets like dogs, cats, or ferrets.  Modern veterinarians, however, can find work in a wide range of industries - looking after captive animals in a zoo, tending to horses on a horse track, caring for livestocks on farms, or even providing emergency care to wild animals before returning them to their home ranges.

To be a veterinarian, you generally need to have a bachelor’s degree in a relevant field such as microbiology, anatomy, or zoology, then enroll in a veterinarian’s school to study the principles of animal care. Carefully developing nonverbal communication skills is also a good step for aspiring veterinarians to take.

The procedures veterinarians provide for pets and animals - administering medicine/anesthetics, performing surgery, prescribing medicines, etc. - can be intense (especially with uncooperative animals) and even heartbreaking (with animals that have limited lifespans). Even so, professional medical technicians with a love of animals and an understanding of their behavior can take pride in helping them live healthy lives.

One of the biggest joys a veterinarian can experience in their line of work is helping animals recover from chronic ailments – injuries to their limbs, starvation, parasites, chronic pain, developmental issues – and watching them enjoy the mobility and energy they’d lost for so long. If this animal is a cherished pet, a veterinarian can take joy in the owner’s happiness as well.

Therapists: enabling people to live their best lives

The mental health industry is full of career opportunities for people who want to help patients in working through their mental health problems - sometimes through psychopharmacology and neuroscience, other times through therapy centered around conversation, analysis, and self-discovery.

Mental health careers like psychiatry, psychology, or counseling often require different skills, those they’re all careers that best fit people with empathy. A psychiatrist, for instance, is a therapist and physician with a Doctors in Medicine, qualified to diagnose patients, offer psychotherapy services, and prescribe medications such as antidepressants or antipsychotics.

A professional psychologist with a PhD in clinical psychology generally focuses on providing psychotherapy services and diagnosing mental health conditions for patients. With a few exceptions, clinical psychologists aren’t qualified to prescribe medication. Counselors, who generally only need a Master’s Degree, almost exclusively use talk therapy to help patients manage stress, cope with trauma, develop healthy habits, and overcome difficulties in their social life. Certain clinical counselors specialize in fields such as:

  • Marriage counseling

  • Family counseling

  • Substance abuse counseling

  • Anger management counseling

  • School guidance counseling

Therapy work can be a very rewarding occupation, with therapists taking great satisfaction in guiding a patient to learn more about themselves, learn how  to confront the problems in their life, and become more healthy, balanced individuals.  At the same time, therapy can be very intense and stressful, depending on the severity of a patient’s issues or the institution where therapists work. The variety of different psychology professions, however, is a boon for aspiring therapists, who can select a specific mental health career that best fits their aptitudes and attitudes.

Key takeaways

  1. Firefighter work is rewarding since you save people from disasters and build close bonds with squad members.

  2. As a physical therapist, working with patients to customize their rehab plans and help them regain functionality is very rewarding.

  3. Dentists are paid well and can customize their schedules as they see fit.

  4. Veterinarian work is rewarding because it can bring happiness and health to both animals and their owners.

  5. Psychologists, psychiatrists, and therapists can find satisfaction in helping patients improve their mental lives.

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