Four-year colleges and universities are not necessarily for everyone. The time and money commitment of a four-year education may be prohibitive to many potential students who are currently working or wanting to further their education; and, the overall cost of a prolonged education can often be prohibitive.
Best Medical Degrees has researched attractive healthcare careers that can be obtained by attending a two-year community college or technical school. Many of these schools, in order to meet the increased demand for qualified healthcare professionals, offer online courses that greatly benefit the student currently working or with family obligations. Online educational programs provide students the opportunity to study on their own time and pace in order to reach graduation.
Community College Tuition Programs
In 2015, President Obama presented a national proposal to provide federally supported, reduced tuition community college education for some students. President Obama’s proposal is building on several states that have drastically reduced or proposed tuition free community college and technical schools.
Tennessee is one such state and developed a community college tuition plan named “Tennessee Promise”. Graduating Tennessee high school students who enroll fulltime in a two-year community college or technical school, and maintain a 2.0 GPA, will receive free tuition (U.S. News and World Report). Chicago also has instituted a tuition free program for students maintaining a 3.0 GPA; and, many states like Massachusetts, California, Oregon and others, either have in place or are planning, some sort of tuition-free community college initiative.
It’s recommended you check with your high school guidance counselor, community college/technical school Financial Aid Office or state to see if such programs are available and how to qualify. Additionally, many students may qualify for Federal Student Financial Aid by completing the necessary paperwork; and, some employers offer tuition assistance for employees through their Human Resources department.
Support or Ancillary Healthcare Careers
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, careers in healthcare in the United States has a potential 23% job growth over the next decade, with an estimated 974,000 new jobs expected. The rise of healthcare support careers is a result of an increase in more insured patients, the aging of the Baby Boomer population and the technological advancement in medicine. Careers are available for almost anyone interested in healthcare, either in direct patient care (Phlebotomy, Dental Assistant, Medical Assistant, etc.) or in ancillary services and supportive healthcare professionals (Medical Secretary, Medical Coder, Medical Equipment Technician, etc.). Modern healthcare is so varied that there’s career opportunities which would appeal to the computer technician, food service manager, bio or chemistry laboratories, etc.
Best Medical Degrees has ranked thirty of these healthcare careers based on salary and job growth as cited by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) and by career rankings provided by U.S. News and World Report as Top Health Care Support Jobs and 100 Top Jobs listings.
(Note: Some careers require licensure or certification. Be certain the program you choose will meet those guidelines that vary from state to state by checking with your state regulatory agency. Additionally, verify the accreditation status of your chosen school. Schools should be accredited by independent organizations recognized by the U.S. Department of Education.)
This ranking is from lowest median salary to highest as determined by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
1. Psychiatric Assistant
Offered in community colleges and vocational schools, students may obtain an Associate Degree in psychiatric or mental health technology. Coursework includes studies in counseling, psychology, biology and anatomy; and, may include, field experience. Employment is available in psychiatric and substance abuse hospitals, psychiatric residential hospitals, general hospitals and outpatient clinics, or outpatient substance abuse or psychiatric hospitals. Psychiatric Assistants observe patient behavior and report their condition, lead therapeutic or recreational activities, give medications and monitor patients’ vital signs. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) cites an average salary for Psychiatric Assistants of $28,470 yearly.
2. Medical Assistant
Ranked by U.S. News and World Report as #20 in their Best Health Care Support Jobs, Medical Assistants have a crucial role in direct patient care and are considered by most healthcare professionals as “the glue that holds healthcare together.” These medical professionals are the front line of patient care, recording patient history and personal information, assist physicians with patient exams, gather patient vital signs information, prepare blood samples and other samples for laboratory tests and, depending on state laws, give patient injections or medications ordered by the physician. This career has a remarkable 23% job growth expectation over the next decade and a median salary of $29,960. Medical Assistants may find employment in hospitals, physician offices, outpatient care centers and long term care facilities. Students interested in having a nursing or advanced medical career may find this an excellent starting point toward that goal.
3. Pharmacy Technician
Working under the supervision of a licensed Pharmacist, Pharmacy Technicians are responsible for collecting the information needed to fill a pharmacy request, package and label prescriptions, enter customer information into a computer, measure prescription amounts and assist in providing patients with accurate information on their prescription. Students studying Pharmacy Technology will take courses in pharmacies, dispensing medications, and pharmacy law and ethics. Technicians become familiar with names, uses, and doses of medications; and, most programs include clinical experience. Regulations for Pharmacy Technicians vary state to state and the BLS estimates a 9% job growth and an average yearly salary of $29,820. Pharmacy Technicians are employed by hospitals, pharmacies and outpatient clinics.
For students wishing to enter the healthcare profession, a good starting point might be in phlebotomy. Phlebotomists are responsible for drawing blood, understanding the correct procedures, obtaining and properly labeling blood samples for testing, assuring accuracy of patients’ names and ordering physicians. Phlebotomists may work in hospitals, physician offices, outpatient clinics, long term care facilities and diagnostic laboratories. Certification for this field is required, including clinical practice. Classroom training and laboratory work include instruction in anatomy, physiology, and medical terminology. Most community colleges and vocational schools offer phlebotomy instruction; and, the Bureau of Labor Statistics cites a rapid 25% jobs increase between 2014-2024. Phlebotomists can earn a median annual salary of $30,670 and is ranked #19 by U.S. News and World Report as Best Health Care Support Jobs.
5. Veterinary Technician
Americans treat their pets as members of the family and spent more than $50 billion dollars for pet care in 2015. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates the need for qualified Veterinary Technicians will increase by 19% over the next ten years. U.S. News and World Report ranks this career as #22 Best Health Care Support Jobs and many community colleges offer a two year program for Veterinary Technicians which can lead to certification and licensure (depending on the state in which you live). Veterinary Technicians work in private veterinary clinics, veterinary schools or laboratories. Technicians provide nursing care or first aid to sick or injured animals, administer anesthesia during surgeries, take and develop x-rays, bathe and groom animals, administer medicines and vaccinations under the supervision of a licensed veterinarian. Median salaries for this career is around $31,070 annually. It should be noted that, according to BLS, workers in veterinary clinics have a higher rate of injury and illness than the national average, due in part, to working with injured, frightened or aggressive animals.
6. Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) and Paramedic
Emergency Medical Technicians/Paramedics are often the first on the scene of accidents or sudden illness. Responding to Emergency 911 calls, EMTs and Paramedics must act quickly and efficiently to access medical situations in order to provide first aid, emergency medical care such as CPR (Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation), bandaging wounds, life support and/or stabilizing patients for transport to the hospital. These medical professionals are responsible for relaying accurate and vital information to physicians, nurses or healthcare facility staff. Some paramedics may work as part of emergency helicopters or airplane’s crew to safely transport critically ill or injured patients to the hospital. The Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs The Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs certifies paramedic programs and lists community colleges offering paramedic programs. According to BLS median salary for EMTs/Paramedics is $31,700 annually and it has a faster than average job growth of 24% between 2014-2024. Paramedic careers rank #25 by U.S. News and World Report as one of the best health careers.
7. Dental, Ophthalmic And Medical Devices Technician
These technicians construct, repair or fit appliances such as dentures, prosthetics or eyeglasses. Most technicians work in laboratories, healthcare speciality stores or ambulatory healthcare services. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates a 10% job growth in this field over the next ten years and the median salary is $33,430. While a high school diploma or equivalent is acceptable, an Associates Degree will help in career advancement into management or supervisory roles in laboratories and agencies.
8. Medical Transcriptionist
Sometimes referred to as healthcare documentation specialists, Medical Transcriptionists listen to physician recordings on patient care, status and orders and convert them into written documents for inclusion in patient charts. While the BLS projects an overall decline in this career over the next decade, the median salary for this job is $34,750 annually. Many smaller hospitals, clinics and physician offices utilize transcriptionists to maintain patient records. Students interested in this field should study medical terminology, anatomy and physiology, grammar, and word-processing software. Although not required, some employers request Medical Transcriptionists are certified through the Registered Healthcare Documentation Specialist (RHDS) and Certified Healthcare Documentation Specialist (CHDS).
9. Dental Assistant
Dental Assistants provide direct patient care, assure the dentist has the instruments necessary, sterilize instruments, process x-rays and assure the patient is comfortable during the dental procedure. There are multiple pathways to become a Dental Assistant and requirements vary by state; but, accredited dental assistant programs are typically required in all states. Studies in accredited programs train students about teeth, gums, jaws, and other areas that dentists work on and the instruments that dentists use. Most programs also require a clinical experience in a dental office. The BLS estimates a rapid 18% job growth and average salary of $35,390; and U.S. News and World Report cites Dental Assistant #72 in its Top 100 Best Jobs report.
10. Cancer Registrar
For over forty years, cancer has been what’s called a “reportable disease”, meaning that data and information is gathered and submitted to state and federal governments on cancer patients and their care. Cancer Registrar’s serve an important function in the gathering of medical information and statistical analysis of cancer treatments and outcomes. Working in cancer clinics or hospitals, Cancer Registrars collect data on pathology reports and medical records to summarize and distribute updated information. This information is used by various agencies, including the National Cancer Institute, to calculate survival rates for various cancers, identifying geographic and demographic information on certain cancers, and monitoring of clinical trials. With a 15% job growth rate over the next ten years, students interested in this medical field study health information management. Earnings are estimated by the Bureau of Labor Statistics at a median of $35,900 yearly. It’s important that you find an educational program that is Certified Tumor Registrar (CTR) credentialed.
11. Medical Coder
Medical Coders are responsible for assuring the proper assignment of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD) for patients diagnoses and treatment. This is a critical aspect for insurance reimbursement for patient care. Medical Coders review patient information for preexisting conditions, apply the appropriate procedures and diagnosis codes for billing purposes and work as an intermediary between the physician and billing offices. Students interested in a career as a Medical Coder typically have a minimum of an Associates Degree with studies in health information technology, medical terminology, anatomy and physiology, health data requirements and standards, classification and coding systems and healthcare reimbursement. The BLS reports a 15% overall job growth over ten years and a median salary of $35,900 a year.
12. Medical Records and Health Information Management Technician
Increasingly, maintaining the accuracy and security of patient medical records is a vital part of healthcare administration. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a 15% employment increase over the next ten years. These healthcare support employees are responsible for patient record review (assuring accuracy, completeness, timeliness, etc.), accurate transference of written reports into databases for reporting purposes and maintain patient care confidentiality. Certification is often required for this position; and, studies in medical terminology, healthcare coding, reimbursement methods and computer systems is important. Salaries average an annual $35,900.
13. Medical Secretary and Administrative Assistant
Employed in all areas of healthcare from physician offices, hospital administrative offices and outpatient and diagnostic clinics, qualified Medical Secretaries and Administrative Assistants can expect, according to the BLS, an average salary of $35,970 a year. Knowledge of medical terminology, reimbursement requirements, insurance billing, scheduling and excellent computer system skills are attractive abilities for Medical Secretaries and Administrative Assistants. Many of these professionals go on to receive the Certified Administrative Professional (CAP) certification. U.S. News and World Report gives this career a #7 ranking as Best Health Care Support Jobs and #49th in its 100 Best Jobs category.
14. Anesthesia Technician
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the need for qualified Anesthesia Technicians will increase by 15% over the next ten year. Critical assistants in surgery, Anesthesia Technicians, working with anesthesiologists, prepare and use the medical equipment used for administering anesthesia. These tasks are vital for the physician administrating anesthesia. Other tasks for this career range from equipment set up, troubleshooting and calibration of equipment used and assisting to assure the patient is safely sedated and monitored during surgery. Students will learn operating room procedures, basic pharmacology, sterile processing, and knowledge of anesthesia equipment; as well, as mathematics and anatomy. Average salaries for this career is around $43,350 annually and certification may be required.
15. Licensed Practical Nurse Practitioner (LPN) and Licensed Vocational Nurse (LVN)
The Bureau of Labor Statistics cites this nursing field as having a ten-year 16% job growth rate and a median salary of $42,490. LPNs and LVNs are very similar in job duties as a Bachelor of Nursing (BSN) in that they provide direct patient care under the supervision of BSNs and physicians. Depending on the state, licensed LPNs and VLNs are responsible for monitoring patients’ health, providing basic patient care such as wound management, educating patients and families on healthcare concerns, recording patient vital sign, etc. Employment may be found in hospitals, outpatient clinics, long-term care facilities and home health agencies. Students study nursing, biology, and pharmacology and include supervised clinical experiences. Be certain to check with your state licensing board to determine if your school choice will meet state accreditation standards. Cited as #16 in Best Health Care Support Jobs and #69 in U.S. News and World Report’s 100 Best Jobs rankings.
16. Surgical Technologist
Similar in tasking to Anesthesia Technicians, Surgical Technicians are important members of surgical teams and perform vital functions during surgery by assisting physicians and nurses before, during and after surgery. Sometimes referred to as operating room technicians or scrubs, these professionals are responsible for the proper set-up of the operating room, surgical instruments, draping and sterile solutions. During surgeries, Surgical Technicians may hand instruments to physicians, hold retractors, cut sutures or operate certain machines. These technicians transport patients to and from surgery, monitor vital signs and assure the patient is comfortable. Education for this career includes courses in anatomy, biology, medical terminology, pharmacology, and training patient care. Ranked #24 by U.S. News and World Report as one of the best support jobs; salary ranges for Surgical Technicians is $43,350 per year and has a healthy 15% ten-year growth rate projection according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
17. Medical Equipment Technician
Medical technology is a growing part of healthcare; and, requires specially trained technicians to assure the equipment is correctly calibrated and working properly. Medical Equipment Technicians are responsible for the installation of medical equipment, repairs and preventative maintenance, records of equipment functions and testing and calibrating parts and equipment. An Associate Degree in biomedicine or engineering is preferred for these technicians. They work in hospitals, manufacturing, ambulatory care and home health agencies. Some technicians may need to be certified, depending on the equipment and state regulations. The BLS estimates median salaries at $45,600 and estimated job growth of 6% over the next decade.
18. Occupational Health and Safety Technician
Working in a variety of settings, such as hospitals, clinics, manufacturing and the government, Occupational Health and Safety Technicians are responsible for assuring that employees, patients and others are protected from hazardous materials, toxins and other hazards. In hospitals, many hazardous materials and potential toxins are in use every day. From biohazards (blood, bodily waste, etc.) to radiation, Occupational Health and Safety Technicians assure the proper handling and disposal of potentially dangerous materials. While there is significant on-the-job training with this career, many employees prefer people who have an Associates Degree which includes studies in respiratory protection, hazard communication, and material-handling and storage procedures. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a 9% job growth in this field and an average salary of $48,120.
19. Food Services Manager
At first glance, Food Services Manager may seem an odd career choice for healthcare; but, it’s a critical part of a hospital’s ability to care for its patients. Working with nutritionists, dieticians and medical personnel, the Food Services Manager must assure meals are properly prepared and delivered to hospitalized patients. Food Services Managers oversee the ordering of food, beverages and equipment, properly train staff and ensure compliance with health and food safety standards, maintain schedules; and, most importantly, assure that proper portion sizes meeting specific patient dietary needs are met. Additionally, many hospitals maintain cafeterias opened to visiting families, friends and hospital personnel to serve meals at breakfast, lunch and dinner. Many community colleges offer programs that concentrate on programs in restaurant or institutional food service management. The BLS cites a 5% ten-year job growth for this field and an average annual salary of $48,560.
20. Laboratory Technician
Working in hospitals, medical diagnostic laboratories and clinics and physician offices, Laboratory Technicians perform procedures and tests ordered by physicians, surgeons or other healthcare professionals. Working under the supervision of managers or technologists, Laboratory Technicians conduct routine testing in laboratory areas of hematology (blood), molecular biology, immunology, microbiology or clinical chemistry. Education involves study in clinical laboratory science and certification and licensure is required in some states. The BLS estimates the ten-year job growth in this field at 16% with a median salary of $49,310 per year. Ranked #14 and #66, respectively, by U.S. News and World Report as its Best Health Care Support and Top 100 Best Jobs categories.
21. Computer Support Specialist
Increasingly, hospitals, clinics and physician offices, rely on computer technology systems for a variety of purposes including patient records, billing and reimbursement information and internal communication. Computer Support Specialists are critical in insuring these systems are running properly. Security of patient information is the single most important aspect of computer systems. Students who have at least an Associates Degrees in computer science, engineering, or information science are preferred. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a 12% job growth from 2014-2024 and reports median salaries of $50,380.
22. Occupational Therapy Assistant
Ranked #1 as Best Health Care Support Jobs and #25 in the Top 100 Best Jobs ranking, Occupational Therapy Assistants are important healthcare providers. Following an accident, surgery, stroke or illness, some patients require help to relearn everyday tasks and rely on Occupational Therapist Assistants to help conduct therapeutic activities designed to recover their abilities necessary for daily living or work. Occupational Therapy Assistants record patients progress, report to Occupational Therapists, educate and encourage patients to use special equipment and complete activities designed to strengthen coordination. The BLS reports a rapid 40% job growth over the next 10 years and an average salary yearly salary of $52,300. Nearly all states require certification and licensure for Occupational Therapy Assistants following a two-year course of study that includes anatomy, physiology, psychology and biology.
23. Respiratory Therapist
Respiratory Therapists (RT) work with patients who have difficulty breathing, either from injury, asthma, lung disease or from heart attacks. The Bureau of Labor Statistics cites this profession as having a median income of $56,730 and a 12% job growth outlook over the next ten years. Approximately 4 out of 5 Respiratory Therapists work in hospitals with others working in healthcare facilities, physician offices or home health agencies. Students in respiratory therapy study anatomy, physiology, math, chemistry, microbiology and pharmacology. Other coursework focuses on diagnostic and therapeutic assessment and procedures, CPR and clinical experience. Respiratory Therapists are licensed by state, so it’s important to check with the state regulatory agency prior to enrolling in a RT program, to insure it meets all requirements for licensure.
24. Radiologic and MRI Technologist
Radiologic Technologists, also known as radiographers, work in hospitals, outpatient clinics and diagnostic clinics and are responsible for performing diagnostic imaging tests, such as x-rays; and MRI Technologists conduct MRI scans. These scans are used by physicians to diagnose and treat patients by providing accurate imaging of the patient. Technologists are charged with assuring imaging equipment is well maintained, following physician orders on which images are required, explain procedures and answer patient questions, properly position the patient for imaging and operate the computerized equipment to take images. Most states require Radiologic Technologists to be licensed and certified so it’s important to find a school that will meet specific state requirements. MRI Technologists typically begin as Radiologic Technicians before specializing. The Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates a median salary of $57,370 annually for this position which has a 9% job prospective over the next ten years. This career is ranked #10 and #58, respectively, by U.S. News and World Report in their listing of Best Health Care Support Jobs and 100 Best Jobs.
25. Cardiovascular Technician
With an impressive 24% employment rate estimated over ten years and a ranking of #13 by U.S. News and World Report for best support careers, Cardiovascular Technicians can earn a median salary of $62,540 annually according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Working in hospitals, clinics and physician offices, Cardiovascular Technicians prepare patients for procedures by taking complete medical histories, prepare, maintain and operate imaging equipment used in diagnoses of patients. Most employers will give preference to students graduating from Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) and the majority will require certification by Cardiovascular Credentialing International. Students will study anatomy, medical terminology, applied sciences; and, courses in invasive or noninvasive cardiovascular or vascular technology procedures. Students can expect to complete a clinical rotation working with physicians, diagnostic clinics or laboratory.
26. Medical Sonographer
Another of the diagnostic technician careers, Medical Sonographers, specialize in diagnostic studies of organs and tissues. Several subspecialties exist in this field, including echocardiographers, cardiovascular invasive or cardiac catheterization technologists, electrocardiogram (EKG) technicians and vascular technologists. Some sonographers work specifically in breast, musculoskeletal, obstetric/gynecologic and pediatric sonography. Employment may be found in hospitals, physician offices and outpatient clinics. U.S. News and World Report cited this career as #42 in its 100 Top Jobs and a strong #5 ranking as Best Health Care Support Jobs. The Bureau of Labor Statistics put a 24% employment rate for sonographers and a mean salary of $62,540 annually. Students should be aware that many employers will require certification and should verify with their school that coursework could lead to certification.
27. Web Developer
Although this career may not immediately spring to mind when thinking of healthcare careers, it’s an important support aspect for hospitals, physician offices, diagnostic clinics and outpatient care centers, nonetheless. As healthcare continues to expand, patients are increasingly driving medical facilities to provide websites that include education, physician and medical services provided and general information on patient care. Web Developers play in a key part in presenting a professional image for medical facilities and supportive services. Increasingly, patients are able to do online hospital admission, pay bills, ask medical questions and connect with medical professionals. Most Web Developers have, at minimum, an Associates Degree in website design with training in graphic design and programming. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates this career has an above average job growth of 27% and an annual, median income of $63,490.
28. Registered Nurse
While the nursing profession, in general, is moving toward the Bachelor of Nursing (BSN) degree, the increasing need for qualified nurses allows licensed nurses with an Associates Degree in Nursing (ADN) to find employment in hospitals, physician offices, outpatient clinics, home health agencies and long term care facilities. With an average salary of $66,640, and an estimated 16% job growth over the next ten years, ADN prepared nurses will find several excellent job and educational opportunities. Many ADN prepared nurses may find employers who offer tuition assistance for nurses to obtain their BSN, allowing for nurses to enjoy educational and increased career opportunities while continuing to work. The ADN is typically a 2-3 year program, which includes clinical experience, and is available at most community colleges. U.S. News and World Report ranks this career at #16 in its healthcare support category and #22 in its 100 Top Jobs.
29. Dental Hygienist
This profession, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, has an above average 19% 10-year job growth expectation and a median salary of $72,520 per year. It is recognized as #2 in U.S. News and World Report’s Best Health Care Support Jobs. Working in dental clinics, Dental Hygienists cleans patient’s teeth by removing tartar, stains, and plaque from teeth as well as accessing patients’ oral health and providing education on proper dental care. Hygienists also take and develop dental x-rays and apply sealants and fluorides for dental protection. All states require Dental Hygienists be licensed and certified; and, requirements will vary from state to state. Students studying to be a Dental Hygienist will study periodontics (gum disease), anatomy, nutrition, radiography, physiology and nutrition, among other topics.
30. Radiation Therapist
Radiation Therapists are a key member of a patient’s cancer care team. Working with oncologists and nurses, the Radiation Therapist operates equipment that delivers specific, prescribed doses of radiation designed to reduce or eliminate tumors. These therapists explain treatment procedures to the patient, assure all safety measures are functional to protect patient and themselves from radiation overexposure, monitor computer programs to assure the radiation dosage is going to the right portion of the body and operate the machine (called a linear accelerator) during treatment. Coursework for radiation therapists includes clinical experience and studies of human anatomy and physiology, physics, algebra, and computer science. The BLS cites the average salary is $80,090 and has a projected job growth of 14% over the next decade. Certification or licensure is required and students should verify the school chosen will meet those requirements for their states.