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Health & STEM: What Professional Women Think

If you're looking for a solid paycheck in a female-dominated field, think medical and STEM (science, technology, engineering and math). Analyzing professions where at least 40 percent of workers are women, salary tracking website PayScale.com found that 13 of the top 20 highest-paying female-dominated jobs are in health care. We picked five of their top 20 and asked those in the profession, both male and female, to provide a glimpse into what they do every day. Here's an insider's look at some of the highest-paying jobs for women, including their median annual salaries in the U.S.

1. Obstetrician/gynecologist

Median pay: $195,600

Claiming the highest-paid spot on PayScale's study, OB/GYNs face a long educational road — four years of college plus four years of medical school plus a residency — but enter into a growing field. The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists predicts a shortfall of somewhere between 9,000 and 14,000 obstetricians/gynecologists in the next few decades.

"There are many states where there are not enough OB/GYNs," says Dr. Shari Lawson, division director for general obstetrics and gynecology at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. "Sometimes women have to travel an upwards of 50 to 75 to 100 miles to seek care."

OB/GYNs need to be ready to do "a little bit of everything," adds Lawson, from delivering babies to surgery to seeing patients in the office. They should also be aware that the profession deals with sensitive issues, and malpractice suits aren't uncommon. A study by Medscape of 1,400 physicians who were sued for medical malpractice reveals that OB/GYNs were among the three most-sued medical specialties, just under family and internal medicine. Still, Dr. Lawson says that the rewards outweigh the risks.

"I really enjoy the opportunity that I have to spend a long-term relationship with my patients," she says. "… I love it when [patients] bring their children back for subsequent visits or when they refer their sisters, mothers or daughters to see me. That's the best part of my job."

2. Psychiatrist

Median pay: $177,400

Weather college, medical school and a residency, and you'll be treated to a generous salary in a rewarding profession, says Dr. Carol A. Bernstein, past president of American Psychiatric Association and associate professor of psychiatry at the New York University School of Medicine. Dedicated to treating the psychological and physiological symptoms associated with mental health conditions, psychiatrists may work in general practice or in a sub-specialty like child, geriatric, forensic, psychosomatic or addiction psychiatry.

"Most people practice outpatient psychiatry and you can do that with a reasonable ability to have a balanced lifestyle," Bernstein says. "… As opposed to a surgeon that might have to get up at 6 to get to the [operating room], that's not true for psychiatrists."

Aspiring psychiatrists can enter medical school from a variety of backgrounds, though a degree in psychology is common. But whatever route they take, they're entering a growing field: National labor data shows that job opportunities for psychiatrists in the U.S. are expected to increase 16 percent between 2012 and 2022, which adds up to 4,400 new jobs nationwide.

3. User experience researcher

Median pay: $94,100

Jennifer Romano Bergstrom says that her favorite part of her job is solving problems. A user experience research leader with Fors Marsh Group social science research firm, Bergstrom helps clients with digital products ensure that their end users are getting exactly what the designer intended.

"We're looking at things like the usability of the product, so whether or not people can actually complete tasks, if they can complete them quickly," she says. "… We're also looking at how desirable the product is or the perceived value of the product."

To understand whether users are getting the message, UX researchers ask users direct questions about their experiences, observe as they perform tasks in a lab environment and use eye tracking data to measure attention and information processing Bergstrom says.

Many entering the field hail from a psychology background — a bachelor's is typically enough to get started — but UX researchers also come from communications, technical writing, human factors and other industries. Who you know goes a long way to landing a job, so get involved with local meet-ups and with your local chapter of the User Experience Professionals Association, of which Bergstrom serves as the director of marketing and communications.

"The field is booming so people are hiring," Bergstrom says. "You really just need to be in the right place and give your name a face."

4. Information architect

Median pay: $92,100

Programmers and web developers do the actual coding, but information architects create the organizational infrastructure of websites, directories, e-libraries, online communities or platforms.

"The information architect is the person who says this is how [the pieces of a site] will be structured, this is what it will mean, this is where they will go, this is how they will communicate," says James Hendler, director of the Rensselaer Institute for Data Exploration and Applications at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

Information architects can break into the field with a bachelor's degree — ideally in computer science, information technology or information systems with additional coursework in design — but a master's is preferred, Hendler says. Jobs abound in larger tech companies, but information architects can also find work with banks, health care systems and "anybody with lots of databases, all of those people need information architects."

5. Senior clinical research associate

Median pay: $89,900

All new drugs and medical devices that make it to market must legally go through clinical trials first. That's where clinical research associates come in. Overseeing and verifying the data collected and procedures followed at clinical research sites, clinical research associates — CRAs for short — are growing as the health care market expands, says Terri Hinkley, deputy executive director of the Association of Clinical Research Professionals.

"It definitely is a very rigorous job," Hinkley says. "… It really does require a lot of discipline and a lot of attention to detail, the ability to do coaching, mentoring, training, teaching are all parts of the CRA role."

CRAs usually have a degree in a life science, such as biology, and start by working in health care, whether it's nursing, pharmaceutical or medicine, then begin doing clinical research in the context of their current jobs Hinkley adds. After approximately two years of doing clinical research, you'll be eligible to become an official clinical research associate.

Sources:
1. "Workforce Changes: Closing the Gap," American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, March 2011, p. 6, http://www.acog.org/-/media/ACOG-Today/acogToday0311.pdf?dmc=1&ts=20141030T1212221789
2. Dr. Jennifer Romano Bergstrom, Ph.D., User Experience Research Leader with Fors Marsh Group, Interviewed by the author on Oct. 22, 2014
3. Dr. Carol A. Bernstein, MD, Past President of the American Psychiatric Association, Interviewed by the author on Oct. 22, 2014
4. Dr. James Hendler, Ph.D., Director of the Rensselaer Institute for Data Exploration and Applications at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Interviewed by the author on Oct. 28, 2014
5. Terri Hinkley, Deputy Executive Director of the Association of Clinical Research Professionals, Interviewed by the author on Oct. 23, 2014
6. "Medscape Malpractice Report: The Experience of Getting Sued," Leslie Kane, July 24, 2013, http://www.medscape.com/features/slideshow/malpractice-report/public#1
7. Dr. Shari Lawson, Division Director for General Obstetrics and Gynecology at Johns Hopkins' School of Medicine, Interviewed by the author on Oct 29, 2014
8. "The 20 Highest Paying Jobs For Women," Emmie Martin and Mike Nudelman, Business Insider, Sept. 17, 2014, http://www.businessinsider.com/highest-paying-jobs-for-women-2014-9
9. Long Term Occupational Projections for Psychiatrists, Projections Central, http://www.projectionscentral.com/Projections/LongTerm