When you’re under pressure or facing danger, you get an adrenaline rush. Some individuals don’t just put up with these circumstances – they actively look for them. If you’re an adrenaline seeker, there are plenty of careers that can help you quench your thirst for adventure. Some professional thrill seekers fuel their adrenaline rush by protecting the public, while others save the lives of people who are in danger. Still others work in fields where they encounter adventure – and even dangerous situations – on a regular basis. If you want a career that promises excitement, take a walk on the wild side with one of our top 15 jobs for adrenaline seekers. 

1. Emergency Room Doctors and Surgeons

exciting careers

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Doctors and surgeons have a lot of responsibility, period. However, physicians who work in hospital emergency rooms are always under pressure. They see patients with serious and sometimes life-threatening injuries and illnesses. If emergency room doctors don’t act fast – and take the right actions – their patients could end up losing blood, limbs and even their lives. Often, they don’t have access to the patient’s complete medical history the way a primary care doctor would. This means they have less information to go on when making a diagnosis, and the stakes are incredibly high.

Of course, being an ER doctor is fulfilling in many ways, too. Yes, there’s a lot of stress, but there’s also the opportunity to save the lives of patients who could die without your help. Of course, the high median annual salary – which, incidentally, landed the career its first-place spot on this list – is another benefit. Plus, the overall number of jobs for physicians and surgeons is growing at about twice the rate as that of all occupations, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

If emergency room doctor sounds like the right career to you, expect to spend close to a decade in training, between going to medical school and completing internships and residencies. Since people get sick or hurt at all times of the day, ER doctors may have to work odd and often long hours.

Salary: $274,000 (CNN Money)

Education: Doctor of Medicine (MD) or Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine degree (DO)

Nature of the job: Saving lives

2. Critical Care Nurses

Critical Care Nurse

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ER doctors and hospital surgeons don’t handle all of the patient care responsibilities themselves. They have help from specialized nurses trained in critical care, trauma and intensive care unit (ICU) nursing. The job of caring for patients who have suffered severe wounds, have gone into shock or are on life support systems like ventilators is certainly enough to get your adrenaline going. In this nursing specialty, patients’ lives are on the line. Critical care nurses also have the responsibility to educate and support the often distraught families of seriously ill or injured patients, which can be stressful in and of itself.

Aspiring critical care nurses must first earn the registered nurse (RN) credential, which requires a formal nursing education at the diploma, associate’s degree or bachelor’s degree level. Through coursework, hospital fieldwork or a combination of the two, they develop the skills to work in a critical care setting. Then they can seek the Certified Critical Care Nurse (CCRN) credential.

Like ER doctors, critical care nurses must often work unusual schedules so they can provide care for people who are gravely ill, even during nonstandard hours. ICU patients need close monitoring 24 hours a day, so hospitals must have these specialized nurses on staff at all times.

Critical care nurses may earn substantially higher salaries than registered nurses in other specialties. While the BLS reports that registered nurses earn a median salary of $66,640, Villanova University reports that critical care nurses make $97,990 per year on average. Additionally, the demand for RNs is expected to be even higher than the demand for doctors in the near future. The BLS anticipates jobs for registered nurses to increase 16 percent over a decade, compared to 14 percent growth expected for physicians and just 7 percent growth predicted for all occupations.

Salary: $66,640 – $97,990

Education: Nursing Program Diploma, Associate’s Degree in Nursing (ADN) or Bachelor of Science Degree in Nursing (BSN)  

Nature of the Job: Saving lives

3. Detectives and Criminal investigators


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Detective work has long been a source of fascination in entertainment of various forms, from Sherlock Holmes to CSI. However, if you’re looking for an adrenaline rush, why not make a career doing a job that others only read about or watch on TV? You’ll see actual, active crime scenes in person when you collect evidence and have the chance to interview real suspects, witnesses and victims as you investigate the crime.

Different types of detectives work in different employment situations, which play a large part in determining what their responsibilities are and how much they make. Police detectives, for example, earn a median salary of $79,870 per year and may be involved in law enforcement activities like arrests and raids, the BLS reported. On the other hand, private detectives earn lower salaries, around $44,570 per year, but they often work for themselves, according to the BLS.

Both private and police detectives often start out their careers in law enforcement or in the military. A college degree isn’t always necessary, but can certainly be helpful – especially since there’s plenty of competition for detective jobs. Crime never sleeps, so both police detectives and private investigators may need to work unusual hours to get the job done.

Salary: $44,570 – $79,870

Education: Associate’s or Bachelor’s Degree in Criminal Justice or Police Science 

Nature of the job: Protecting the public

4. Police Officers

Police officer

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When trouble erupts, it takes a brave person to run toward the danger rather than away from it. Police officers do just that.

As a police officer, it doesn’t matter whether you’re pulling over reckless drivers on the highway, responding to reports of a violent crime or arresting suspects who may not come quietly – you can’t be sure what will happen next. You put yourself at risk every day to protect and serve the public. Even if you’re not scared easily, there will likely be at least a few times in your career – and more likely, many times – that you feel a rush of adrenaline when you’re working to save the victim of a crime, diffuse a risky situation or arrest a dangerous suspect.

Different precincts have different education and training requirements. In some districts, you may be able to apply to a police training academy with just a high school diploma, according to the BLS. However, many precincts seek candidates with an associate’s or bachelor’s degree, and having a college education is becoming more and more valuable since there’s so much competition for the job. If you want to be a police officer, you will need a clean record and must be able to meet strict physical fitness requirements. Overnight and shift work is common for law enforcement officers, as is overtime.

Salary: $56,810

Education: Associate’s or Bachelor’s Degree in Law Enforcement or Criminal Justice

Nature of the Job: Protecting the public

5. Explosives Workers

Explosives worker

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It’s tough to think of any event that’s as dramatically dangerous as an explosion. For most of us, witnessing an explosion might be a once-in-a-lifetime event, but for explosives workers, it’s all part of the daily routine. These professionals handle, position and detonate explosives for purposes like engineering, construction, mining and oil and gas extraction. It’s their responsibility to safely and effectively demolish buildings and move rocks and earth so new structures can be built or so existing resources can be reached. Not only is an explosion itself enough to get your adrenaline going, but explosive workers have the stress of making sure the demolition goes safely.

Explosives worker is a relatively small occupation. The BLS reported that just 8,100 people currently work in the profession and the occupation is expected to grow by just 300 jobs over a decade. Most explosives workers enter the occupation with a high school diploma, though some get a certificate-level or undergraduate education in a related subject like engineering or construction.

Salary: $52,140

Education: Certificate or Undergraduate Degree in Engineering, Construction or Chemistry

Nature of the Job: Encountering adventure or danger

6. Firefighters


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Could you imagine yourself running into a burning building? Braving the dangers of a home on fire to save lives isn’t just the ultimate adrenaline rush – it’s also extraordinarily heroic. Maybe that’s why, despite the risks and the stress, the competition for full-time firefighter jobs is fierce.

Naturally, firefighters respond to emergencies involving burning buildings, forest fires and explosions. They use high-pressure hoses and other equipment to extinguish the flames. However, they are also called on for help in other emergency and disaster situations. They use their training as emergency medical technicians (EMTs) to save lives in search and rescue missions and provide basic life-saving care.

Firefighters may work exceptionally long and unusual hours. Their shifts often last between 24 and 72 hours, the BLS reported. During this time, they work, sleep and eat at the fire station, constantly on call in case an emergency should arise. While you don’t necessarily need a college degree to get your first firefighter job, you do need at least some post-secondary education in subjects like airway management and trauma care to become an EMT. If your goal is to eventually advance into a role like captain or chief, a college degree in fire science will be helpful, if not required.

Salary: $45,970 

Education: EMT Certification; Bachelor’s Degree in Fire Science or Public Administration

Nature of the Job: Protecting the public

7. Correctional Officers

Correctional Officer

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Would being surrounded by criminals convicted of violent crimes be enough to activate your fight-or-flight response? For correctional officers, it’s a typical workday. These protective service professionals work in prisons, where they supervise inmates and enforce rules. Having to review the condition of jail cells, restrain inmates and conduct searches for contraband requires you to be alert and levelheaded under pressure. If correctional officers don’t effectively enforce the rules, they could find themselves caught up in a prison riot – a dangerous situation.

Shift work is common among correctional officers, since jails need to be staffed, supervised and kept in order 24/7. Overtime work is also common, and can significantly increase correctional officers’ total wages. Correctional officers are often part of a union, according to the BLS. This means they enjoy more employment protection than the typical at-will employee working in the private sector, for example. They also get benefits such as retirement plans and uniform allowances.

A high school diploma is sufficient education for working as a correctional officer in a number of local and state jails. However, there are some doors only a college education will open. Even some local and state facilities that don’t require a college degree still require candidates to complete a minimum number of college credits. If you want to work in a federal prison, you will need a bachelor’s degree. Even at facilities that don’t require a college education, having a degree can give you a boost over the competition – which there’s sure to be plenty of, since the BLS predicts slower than average job growth for this occupation.

Salary: $39,780

Education: Associate’s or Bachelor’s Degree in Criminal Justice or Corrections

Nature of the Job: Protecting the public

8. Hazardous Materials Removal Workers

Hazardous Materials Removal Worker

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Hazardous materials removal is a dangerous job – it says so right in the name – but someone’s got to do it. Would dressing head to toe in protective gear help you find the courage to approach some of the most toxic materials known to humankind?

Nearly three-quarters of all hazardous waste removal workers find employment with waste management services, according to the BLS. However, they may encounter different kinds of dangerous substances, ranging from nuclear waste to lead and asbestos. As if the hazardous materials themselves weren’t dangerous enough, these employees often work in dangerous environments, too. Heights, confined spaces, partially demolished buildings and the scenes of accidents and disasters are common workspaces for hazardous materials removal workers. This is a high-pressure job in more ways than one. Not only are these workers responsible for removing dangerous substances by protecting others, but they also need to follow safety protocols to the letter to protect themselves and their teams.

Most hazardous materials removal workers don’t have a college education. However, a degree is essential for certain roles, such as those in nuclear plants. Whether or not you earn a college degree, you should expect to spend time learning the profession through safety training both inside and outside the classroom. You may need specific training and even a state license or federal permit to work with certain kinds of hazardous materials, such as nuclear waste, lead and asbestos.

Salary: $38,520

Education: Associate’s Degree in Radiation Protection

Nature of the Job: Encountering adventure or danger

9. Emergency Dispatchers

Can you keep your cool even when others around you are panicking? Emergency dispatcher might be the job for you.

While they don’t visit emergency scenes in person, police, fire and ambulance dispatchers are literally the first people to respond to a 911 call. The callers on the other end of the phone are often frightened and distraught. Sometimes they’re badly hurt or in danger themselves. Emergency dispatchers need to listen carefully and communicate effectively to find out where the emergency is taking place and which authorities need to be alerted. They not only send the right agencies to the scene of the emergency but may also remain on the line with the distressed caller while police, fire and emergency medical personnel are on their way. During the call, emergency dispatchers may guide callers in getting themselves out of danger, giving first aid to an injured person on the scene and preparing for the arrival of first responders.

Historically, most emergency dispatchers haven’t had college degrees. However, there are a number of academic subjects in which a college education could help an emergency dispatcher succeed, including:

  • Communications
  • Criminal Justice
  • Emergency management
  • Emergency services
  • Public safety

With the number of emergency dispatcher jobs expected to decrease rather than increase over the next decade, having an education or skills that set you apart from the competition can be important. In many states, having a certification like Emergency Medical Dispatcher is beneficial or even required.

Emergency dispatchers don’t work in a physically dangerous environment, but they do experience plenty of stress and pressure in their daily job responsibilities. When they receive a call, lives are at stake. They need to be able to multitask and to quickly make the right decisions and provide the right instructions. Both long shifts and overtime are common, the BLS reported, and that means handling many troubling calls for help each workday.

Salary: $37,410

Education: Emergency Medical Dispatcher Certification; College Degree in Emergency Services, Public Safety, Criminal Justice, Emergency Management or Communications

Nature of the Job: Saving lives

10. Self-Enrichment Education Teachers

Skydiving instructor

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Do you fuel your adrenaline rush with activities like skydiving, whitewater rafting and rock climbing? Hundreds of thousands of extreme sports enthusiasts are making a living by teaching others “self-enrichment” activities like these – and so can you. It’s easy to be passionate about your job when adventure and fun are a big part of your work on a daily basis.

Most self-enrichment education teachers – at least, those teaching high-adrenaline extreme sports and activities like these – don’t need a college degree. They do, however, need a good deal of training and experience to do their job right. After all, part of the reason these sports are so exciting is because they are dangerous. As a guide or instructor, you’re responsible for the safety of the participants you teach.

You may have to complete a minimum number of times participating the activity, such as 200 skydiving jumps. Depending on the activity, you may need certain licenses, certifications or ratings from professional organizations like the United States Parachute Association (USPA) or the American Mountain Guides Association. Through training – possibly in a classroom as well as in the field – you’ll learn the skills and safety procedures necessary to prevent accidents and injuries and to respond if an emergency does occur.

Of course, a career in self-enrichment teaching isn’t for everyone who enjoys skydiving, whitewater rafting and other extreme sports. If instructor is your full-time job, you’re going to spend every workday in that environment, engaging in and helping others engage in the activity. You’re under a lot more pressure as an instructor than just a participant, because you’re responsible for the safety of others as well as yourself. However, if you would love to make a career out of your favorite thrill-seeking hobby, you’re in luck. The BLS predicted a “much faster than average” job growth rate of 15 percent over a decade for these professionals.

Salary: $36,020

Education: Extensive Training and Professional Certification in Your Activity

Nature of the Job: Encountering adventure or danger

11. Fishing Workers

Fishing worker

IMAGE SOURCE: Pixabay, Public Domain

Plenty of people go fishing or hunting for recreation, but you could make it your career. After all, people all over the world need to eat, and the meat and fish they consume has to come from somewhere. If you go fishing or hunting to relax, then a career in the fast-paced fishing industry is probably not right for you. However, if you don’t mind confronting adventure or even danger on the sea, then you will love that the job entails the thrill of bringing in a good catch.

You don’t need a college degree to become a professional in the fishing and hunting industry. On the job training is often sufficient to get started in this career. However, with the BLS predicting a slight decrease in fishing and hunting jobs over the next 10 years, attaining these roles might be harder than you would think. A number of community colleges and vocational schools offer associate’s degree programs in fishery technology, aquaculture and similar subjects that can improve your job prospects and help you advance. These programs cover a range of topics, according to the BLS, including:

  • Fishing gear technology
  • Marine safety
  • Navigation
  • Seamanship
  • Vessel operations and repair

Professional fishing workers don’t just bait their rods and sit back to wait for a catch. They use fish-finding equipment to locate fish from large or small boats. When they make a catch – typically a large one, especially when using gear like nets – they must store the fish in ways that will keep them safe for food consumption or an alternative use.

Salary: $32,530

Education: Associate’s Degree in Fishery Technology

Nature of the Job: Encountering adventure or danger 

12. EMTs and Paramedics

EMTs and Paramedics

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Even before emergency room doctors and critical care nurses get to a patient in need, another medical professional is there to provide life-saving first aid and cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). Emergency medical technicians (EMTs) and paramedics travel to the scenes of accidents, disasters, crimes and medical emergencies to provide initial treatment to patients who – in the most serious circumstances – might otherwise not live long enough to reach the hospital.

EMTs and paramedics need to provide immediate emergency care. They must be able to evaluate the condition of an injured or ill patient quickly and decide how to best treat that condition, and they don’t have the luxury of numerous diagnostic testing facilities with which to do so. While they do treat patients at the scene, they must also care for patients while an ambulance or medical helicopter transfers them to the hospital. EMTs and paramedics need to be able to handle the pressure and keep calm in an emergency situation.

You don’t need a college degree to become an EMT, but you do to become a paramedic. These are the most advanced of the emergency medical services professionals, and they need more training, including a two-year college degree in a subject like emergency medical technology. Both EMTs and paramedics save lives in emergency situations, but paramedics have more responsibilities and can provide more extensive patient care. EMTs and paramedics need to complete a training program approved by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs to earn their certification. These programs include 150 to 1,200 hours of instruction, depending on the level of study, according to the BLS.

EMT and paramedic are high-pressure jobs, but they’re also rewarding. Not only do you have the opportunity to literally save lives on a daily basis, but you also have a highly positive job outlook. The BLS expects opportunities for EMTs and paramedics to grow by 24 percent over a decade. That’s “much faster” than the average seven percent growth rate anticipated for all occupations and still a great deal faster than the 16 percent job growth expected across the healthcare industry as a whole.

Salary: $31,700

Education: Associate’s Degree in Emergency Medical Technology; EMT, Advanced EMT or Paramedic Certification from the NREMT   

Nature of the Job: Saving lives

13. Security Guards

Security Guard

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Anytime you’re responsible for protecting the public – whether at an office building, bank, school, hospital, mall, casino or entertainment venue – there’s the potential for danger. Instead of serving entire communities like police officers, security guards protect the property, workers and visitors of their specific employers.

Security guards conduct surveillance through in-person patrols and observing security cameras. When alarms on the property go off, security guards are responsible for responding to them. They oversee access to restricted areas, implement security checks and stop those suspected of breaking the law. Security guards act to prevent crimes of all kinds, from theft and vandalism to violent crimes and terrorist acts. Of course, would-be criminals don’t appreciate security guards for making crimes more difficult to pull off – and that’s where the job can get dangerous.

If you’re quick to notice suspicious behaviors or circumstances and brave enough to go investigate out-of-the-ordinary – and potentially dangerous – situations, a career as a security guard will provide the adrenaline rush you’re looking for. You will need to stay alert even during night and odd-hour shifts, and if an incident arises, you’ll have to think and act quickly.

A high school diploma is sufficient formal education for becoming a security guard, but these protective services professionals typically must undergo training before starting the job and during their first few weeks on the job. Through this training, they learn the correct way to handle emergency situations, administer first aid, detain suspects, report incidents and – if applicable – handle weapons like firearms. In addition to undergoing training, security guards in most states must attain a state registration, which includes passing a background check, the BLS reported.

Security guard is a very large occupation, currently employing more than 1,095,000 workers. While the BLS predicts modest growth in opportunities for security guards over a decade, the expected 5 percent increase will translate to more than 55,000 new jobs.

 Salary: $24,410

Education: High School Diploma; On-the-Job Training; State Registration  

Nature of the Job: Protecting the public

14. Ambulance Drivers

Ambulance driver

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If you’ve ever seen an ambulance speeding by with its sirens screeching and lights flashing, you can probably imagine that driving an ambulance could be a thrilling experience. Ambulance drivers must get critically ill and injured patients to medical facilities where they can get the treatment they need – and often, time isn’t on their side. Between the pressure of having to save the life of the patient being transported and the exhilaration of driving quickly and evasively to accomplish it, it’s easy to see how the job can give you an adrenaline rush.

You don’t need a college degree to become an ambulance driver, but depending on where you intend to work, you may need to undergo basic EMT training and get certified. EMT courses often include training and hands-on experience in driving an ambulance as well as performing CPR and first aid. In many locations, EMTs are responsible for operating emergency services vehicles as well as for patient care. You might also need to attain a special type of commercial driving license or a certificate permitting you to drive an ambulance.

Only about 19,600 Americans currently work as ambulance drivers but are not also EMTs, according to the BLS. However, the BLS expects opportunities for ambulance drivers to grow by 33 percent over a decade, adding 6,500 new jobs.

Salary: $24,080

Education: High School Diploma; Possible EMT Certification; Commercial Driving License

Nature of the Job: Saving lives

15. Military Personnel

Military Personnel

IMAGE SOURCE: Pixabay, public domain

When you enlist in any branch of the United States military, you’re making a sacrifice for the good of your country. You may be deployed far from your loved ones, and you may face danger and stress in a number of forms. However, you can also encounter adventure as you travel the world protecting your nation. Somewhere along the way, there’s a good chance you will encounter an experience worthy of an adrenaline rush.

“Military personnel” isn’t one job so much as one classification of jobs. There are numerous roles you can hold in the various branches of the armed forces, with varying level of job responsibilities and pay grades. Some military personnel are entry-level enlisted members, while others are high-level officers with decades of experience.

Whether you enlist in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps or Coast Guard, you can find various work opportunities that will allow you to train in a career field. For some personnel, serving in the military is a long-term career, while for others, it’s an opportunity to gain an education and job skills for a future career while serving your country.

To begin your career as an enlisted member of the United States military, you must earn a high school diploma. For certain roles, or to advance to a position such as officer, you will need a college education. You must also meet age, physical fitness, citizenship and other requirements and pass a background check.

Salary: $18,561 – $192,866

Education: High School Diploma; Possible Bachelor’s Degree

Nature of the Job: Encountering adventure or danger

Editor’s Note: All salary, job outlook, work environment, education and training and license and certification data contained in this article comes from the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). You can learn more about career paths for adrenaline seekers from the BLS’s blog post Adrenaline jobs: High-intensity careers.

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