A master’s degree in the healthcare field can be the beginning of a variety of fulfilling careers—and opportunities are plentiful. Physician assistants are the fastest growing healthcare occupation in Kentucky that requires a master’s degree.
In addition, among all careers requiring a master’s degree, healthcare social workers, speech-language pathologists, and occupational therapists are projected to be in the Top 10 in number of Kentucky openings in 2026.
Note: Doctoral degrees are also available in these areas, and many professionals who wish to go into leadership roles pursue these more advanced degrees.
Demand for physician assistants is growing in Kentucky, with a 33.1 percent increase in the number of positions projected from 2016 to 2026. PAs, under a supervising physician, conduct physical exams, diagnose and treat illnesses, order and interpret tests, counsel on preventive care, assist in surgery, and prescribe medications.
Master’s degree programs for PAs look for students with an undergraduate background in science and health care and experience directly caring for patients.
The University of Kentucky has a physician assistant program on its Lexington campus and at Morehead State University. There are also physician assistant programs at the University of the Cumberlands and Sullivan University.
- Physician assistants, 33.1 percent increase from 2016-2026, from 1,006 to 1,339 positions. Average salary $101,649.
Healthcare social workers
Healthcare social workers help people and families dealing with chronic, acute, or terminal illnesses. They may serve as case managers, therapists, or care navigators, making referrals and addressing barriers to access healthcare. To become a healthcare social worker, you usually need a master’s degree in social work.
- Healthcare social workers: 16.7 percent increase from 2016-2026, from 1,806 to 2,107 positions. Average salary $49,245.
Speech and occupational therapy
Speech-language pathologists diagnose and treat swallowing and communication disorders. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, about two out of five speech-language pathologists worked in schools in 2016. Most others worked in healthcare facilities, such as hospitals.
Occupational therapists treat patients with various illnesses, injuries, and disabilities, such as Alzheimer’s disease, cerebral palsy, autism, or the loss of a limb. They help patients with skills needed for activities of daily living and working.
- Speech-language pathologists: 13.1 percent increase, from 2,133 to 2,413 positions. Average salary $72,626.
- Occupational therapists: 23.1 percent increase, from 1,754 to 2,159 positions. Average salary $81,122.
Figures from the Kentucky Occupational Outlook to 2026