We identify the most satisfying jobs.
Ranking the most satisfying careers in America isn't an exact science.
To get a good idea of professions that many people find the most satisfying, we used a formula that combines earning potential, flexibility, opportunities, and upward mobility.
But we didn't stop there...We also talked to industry experts and the people who do these jobs, since they're uniquely qualified to tell us what statistics can't.
If you're thinking about making the leap to another profession, check out our list of the Most Satisfying Careers.
Most Satisfying Career #1: Freelance Graphic Designer
Working as a freelance graphic designer requires both artistic talent and business savvy. It's a unique blend of right and left brain activity that could leave designers feeling satisfied at the end of the work day.
Take Todd LeMieux, a graphic designer in Springfield, Massachusetts. "I encounter fresh challenges every day," said LeMieux, who also does web design and tradeshow displays. "I get paid to do something I love and I'm very grateful for that."
- Internet advertising and mobile phone technology are creating a surge in job opportunities for graphic designers, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
- Several graphic design associations provide assistance to freelancers. LeMieux, who has worked independently for the past 10 years, credits the Graphic Artists Guild for help along the way.
- Working independently often involves little-to-no daily commute.
Education: Graphic design programs stress key visual problem-solving skills, according to Leslie Friesen, a graphic design professor at the University of Louisville and a big believer in a well-rounded education that includes business and marketing courses. "It's about learning how to communicate a message to an audience," Friesen said.
Earning Potential: Freelance graphic designers averaged at $57,000 in earnings in 2008, according to the American Institute of Graphic Arts.
Most Satisfying Career #2: Critical Care Nurse
According to a University of Chicago survey, professions that involve helping others rate highest in job satisfaction, making nursing a no-brainer addition to our list of Most Satisfying Careers.
"There is a great deal of personal and professional satisfaction in providing hands-on care for people," said DeAnn McEwen, a registered nurse who works in critical care at Long Beach Memorial Medical Center.
- "Nursing careers are never boring," said McEwen, who is also the president of the California Nurses Association. "They're as unique as the people who become our patients."
- According to the Department of Labor, many registered nurses enjoy flexible work schedules, child care, educational benefits, and bonuses.
- Upward mobility is another plus of the nursing profession, according to Charles R. McConnell, a health care industry veteran and editor of The Health Care Manager. "A registered nurse at a large hospital would have seven or eight steps available to them on the career ladder," he said.
Education: An associate's or bachelor's degree program is the most common entry to the profession, according to the Department of Labor.
Earning Potential: Registered nurses had an average salary of $66,530 in 2009, according to the Department of Labor.
Most Satisfying Career #3: Software Quality Assurance Manager
In a 2010 PayScale study that analyzed satisfaction levels for 82 professions, software quality assurance managers finished second overall, behind only aerospace engineers.
- According to the PayScale poll, 45 percent of software quality assurance managers enjoy flexible work schedules.
- Casual attire and a positive work atmosphere were cited by 58 percent of software quality assurance managers as benefits of the job, according to the 2010 PayScale study.
- Software quality assurance managers are part of a real growth sector in IT, according to Josh James, a vice president of research and analysis at TechAmerica. "When the economic downturn hit, software companies were the last to start shedding jobs and the first to start adding them again," he said.
Education: Majoring in information systems or another IT related field can be a good place to start. Management level positions usually require either extensive work experience and/or graduate school.
Earning Potential: Five years out of school, the average salary is $86,700, according to PayScale. "Nationally, jobs in the high tech industry pay 87 percent more than the average private sector job," James said. "In states like California, the differential is more than double."
Most Satisfying Career #4: Health Care Manager
Hospital administrators received top marks in personal job satisfaction, as well as future growth and benefit to society, according to Money/PayScale.com's "Best Jobs in America".
Charles McConnell, editor of The Health Care Manager, believes that job satisfaction is an industry-wide strength. "Generally speaking, I think you'll find a higher level of job satisfaction within the health care industry because quite a few people are altruistic and enjoy caring for others," he said.
- High earning potential and prestige are two noteworthy perks of the profession, according to the Department of Labor, which says that the top ten percent of medical and health services managers averaged at $140,300 in 2009.
- The time is right for people looking to get into health care management. New federal legislation has prompted a seismic shift in the way the industry does business, creating a demand for new managers to help lead the transition.
- Medical and health care managers help coordinate, plan and direct health services in hospitals, clinics and doctor's offices. For those with management and/or health care experience, opportunities abound. The Department of Labor forecasts strong, steady growth in job opportunities through 2018.
Education: A bachelor's degree in health care administration or business administration is a great way to start. Most management positions require a master's degree, such as an MBA, in tandem with work experience.
Earning Potential: Health care managers have an average annual wage of $90,970, according to the Department of Labor's 2009 figures.