By Paul Keegan, with Anne C. Lee
Great pay and superior growth prospects. Work that's meaningful. Those are some of the qualities we looked for when selecting America's best jobs. Take a look at which jobs made the top 10 list.
1. Software architect
Sector: Information tech
What they do: Like architects who design buildings, they create the blueprints for software engineers to follow -- and pitch in with programming too. Plus, architects are often called on to work with customers and product managers, and they serve as a link between a company's tech and business staffs.
Requirements: Bachelor's degree, and either a master's or considerable work experience to demonstrate your ability to design software and work collaboratively.
2. Physician assistant
Sector: Health care
What they do: Act as Robin to a doctor's Batman, performing routine care such as physicals and tests, counseling patients, and even prescribing medication, all under a doctor's supervision. Today's doctor shortage will only worsen as boomers age and health-care reform brings more patients into the system, creating a huge need for PAs.
Requirements: Complete an accredited PA program (average length: 26 months). The typical applicant has a bachelor's degree and four years of health care experience.
3. Management consultant
What they do: Advise companies on how to grow the business or battle a problem. Economic upheaval is forcing many firms to rethink strategies, creating a need for advisers on everything from pricing and operations to cost-cutting and sales growth. Information technology consulting is one of the fastest-growing areas, as is helping companies explore international markets.
Requirements: Just about anybody can claim the title (nearly a third are self-employed), but an MBA coupled with experience inside firms in your field gives you an edge. Nowadays, many laid-off managers are finding that their industry knowledge and access to insiders translates well to consulting.
4. Physical therapist
What they do: Assess and treat people with physical conditions that limit their movements or ability to perform daily activities. Help with pain management and surgical rehab. Longer life spans and a wave of aging boomers have already created a PT shortage.
Requirements: Three-year graduate degree and a state license.
5. Environmental engineer
What they do: Use engineering skills to protect the environment and human health. Environmental engineers work on air-pollution control, water treatment, waste management, alternative energy, and conservation, in both the private sector and government agencies.
Requirements: An undergraduate degree in any engineering specialty can be enough, and a state license is not always required. But you'll fare better with a graduate degree in environmental engineering.
6. Civil engineer
Sector: Construction, architecture, engineering
What they do: Design and supervise the creation of highways, bridges, sewer and water systems, power plants, and the like. Huge projects in countries like China and India are creating a shortage of qualified local engineers, bolstering demand for U.S. talent. America's own infrastructure is in desperate need of an overhaul.
Requirements: A bachelor's in civil engineering and a state license. Specialty jobs like structural engineer often require a master's.
7. Database administrator
Sector: Information tech
What they do: Organize and manage data, update software, and troubleshoot when problems arise.
Requirements: Many DBAs start out elsewhere in IT, usually as developers or programmers. Database certification isn't mandatory -- classes alone may be enough -- but if you're starting out, the credential can help you land a job. Lim recommends certifying in SQL Server, Oracle, or DB2 database management systems.
8. Sales director
What they do: Manage a company's sales strategy and sales staff. During the recession, companies focused on cutting costs and staying the course. Now the goal is growth.
Requirements: Climb the ladder. You'll need to prove yourself as a high performer on the sales staff to be promoted to this role. You can also move into the job from another management position, says Bob Kelly, chairman of the Sales Management Association.
9. Certified public accountant
Sector: Business services
What they do: Maintain financial records and analyze the numbers. Especially in this time of economic turmoil, CPAs are needed to make sense of increasingly complex financial transactions -- from buyouts to businesses grappling with changing tax laws.
Requirements: You'll need a bachelor's degree in accounting -- some CPAs also complete a one-year master's program -- and at least two years of on-the-job experience to get a license in most states.
10. Biomedical engineer
Sector: Scientific research
What they do: Design and develop medical devices, treatments, and procedures, from artificial hearts to drug-delivery systems. Breathtaking technological advances are intersecting with the medical needs of an aging population, creating what the U.S. government projects will become "the fastest-growing occupation in the economy."
Requirements: An undergraduate mechanical, electrical, or chemical engineering degree, coupled with some bio background, is often enough. (Or you can pick up the biology on the job.) But as more schools award biomedical engineering degrees -- the number of college programs has doubled in the past decade -- that credential will become a must.
You've seen the top 10, now see what other jobs made the list starting from number 11 on CNNMoney.com. Continue to the full list of Best Jobs in America >>
Check out the Top Paying Jobs in America >>
See the Least Stressful Jobs in America >>
Get your daily bite of employment news, views and scandals on AOL Jobs DimeCrunch.