Healthcare is one of the fastest growing professions in the United States. This growth is, in part, fueled by an increase in medically insured Americans and the impact of the aging Baby Boomer demographic. Improvements in technology, medical science and rapid diagnostic abilities have created an increase in the training and education needs for qualified healthcare professionals To help meet these needs, community colleges and technical schools are providing online, accredited healthcare Associate Degrees to fill the vacancies in medicine. For those wanting to enter the field, two year (or less) Associate Degree programs are excellent avenues to begin a career.
Associate Degree Healthcare Programs
Careers in healthcare have been estimated to experience an overall 23% job growth with an estimated 974,000 new jobs projected between 2016-2026. Healthcare has become such a large industry, that careers may be found in a wide variety of positions from clinical to supportive services. Online Associate Degrees are available for practically anyone interested in healthcare, whether it’s in the clinical arena (nursing, imaging, laboratory, etc.) or in ancillary services and supportive healthcare professionals (medical coder, health informatics, etc.). Best Medical Degrees offers 30 Best Healthcareers With An Associates Degree which will provide additional information for the programs listed here.
It’s difficult to separate career opportunities from educational goals, especially when it comes to a career in medicine. Not all medical careers require a four-year degree and several excellent professions may be entered with an Associates Degree from an accredited community college or technical school. These programs are typically two-years (or less) in duration, allowing students to enter the healthcare field more quickly. Additionally, an Associate Degree provides a solid foundation for those who may want to advance their education after gaining professional experience.
Direct patient care careers generally require licensure and certification; and, it’s important that whatever educational program you choose, that it is accredited by a Department of Education approved, independent organization. There is no “one size fits all” accreditation for healthcare careers, so be certain to find a program that is appropriately accredited for your profession. For example, nursing programs should, at minimum, be accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) or the Accreditation Council for Nursing Education (ACEN).
Best Medical Degrees has been reviewing online healthcare Associate Degrees to determine those careers with the best job growth expectations and salary projections. To do this, information is researched using data: 1) provided by the U.S. News and World Report, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) regarding job growth potential and unemployment rate, 2) salary information from the BLS and PayScale (an online employer survey company), 3) professional medical organizations (American Nursing Association (ANA), American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA), etc., 4) educational accreditation organization and 5) available online Associate Degree programs.
This listing is ranked by job growth estimates provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics and includes salary estimates as projected by PayScale and the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Best Medical Degrees recently published 25 Fastest Online Medical Degrees which may give you additional options as you consider a professional career in healthcare.
1. Physical Therapy Assistants
Students may enter this career with an Associates Degree within two years. Physical Therapy Assistants (PTA) work alongside physical therapists and physiatrists (physicians specializing in therapeutic sciences) to assist patients who are recovering from accidents (such as brain trauma), strokes or physical disabilities (such as birth defects). PTAs are expected to follow specific therapy plans as prescribed, monitor patients progress, utilize appropriate equipment and techniques, as well as provided education to patients and families. Degree studies for this field will typically include courses in anatomy, physiology, pathology, kinesiology, interpersonal communications, psychology, orthopedics, therapeutic exercise, use of therapeutic equipment and devises, etc. While coursework may be conducted online, students will be expected to complete field experiences in either hospitals, clinics, physician offices, government facilities, etc. Accreditation for educational programs is provided by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics calculates an impressive 30%, ten year growth rate for this profession and U.S. News and World Report rates this career with a low 2.4% unemployment rate. Physical Therapy Assistants ranked #4 in U.S. News and World Report’s Best Health Care Support Jobs and #20 in The 100 Best Jobs categories. Annual salaries for PTAs range from $30,645-$62,341 according to PayScale and the Bureau of Labor Statistics suggests a median salary of $25,680. All states require PTAs to be licensed which typically requires passing the National Physical Therapy Exam administered by the Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy.
2. Occupational Therapy Assistants
An Associate Degree from an an accredited occupational therapy program is desirable for this career working with patients to restore physical functions following an accident, stroke or surgery. Occupational Therapy Assistant online programs feature coursework in occupational therapy fundamentals in medical terminology, anatomy and physiology, psychology, interpersonal communication, human occupations and kinesiology. OTAs work with patients to relearn daily tasks by education, encouragement and use of specialized equipment Following physician orders, OTAs are expected to complete activities, record patient progress, coordinate with Occupational Therapists on patient cases and monitor progress. Online programs are hybrid in nature, requiring online coursework as well as clinical experience in an appropriate healthcare facility offering occupational and physical therapy services. Accreditation for OTA programs is offered by the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education, a part of the American Occupational Therapy Association.
U.S. News and World Report has ranked Occupational Therapy Assistants as the #1 in its Best Health Care Support Jobs and #60 in the Top 100 Best Jobs ranking. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports a rapid 28% job growth over the next 10 years. PayScale cites an average salary scale of $30,651-$61,227. Nearly all states require certification through the National Board of Certification in Occupational Therapy and state licensure.
3. Dental Hygienist
Requiring an Associates Degree, this is a growing career with excellent salary potential. Many community colleges offer online hybrid programs in this specialty requiring practical experience as part of the overall curriculum. Typical coursework will include basic chemistry, microbiology, anatomy, nutrition, pharmacology, physiology, psychology, radiography and nutritional studies. As the student advances, work in patient care, emergency dental procedures, periodontology and dental, patient education. Dental Hygienists work closely with dentists to follow precise protocols and techniques. The typical length for this degree may be 2 years. It’s important that students verify that the program chosen holds accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA), which is a division of the American Dental Association (ADA).
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, this career has a remarkable 20% job growth expectation between 2016-2026 and while hygienists may find employment in dental offices, work may also be found in government and community agencies. PayScale places the annual salary for this profession at $34,331-$74,643 according to its employer surveys. U.S. News and World Report ranks this profession at #3 in its Best Health Care Support Jobs and #17 in The 100 Best Jobs, with an extremely low .5% unemployment rate. Licensure is required by passing the Joint Commission on National Dental examination.
4. Cardiovascular Technician
An Associates Degree in cardiovascular technology trains students to take medical histories, prepare for procedures and the proper use of imaging equipment for use in diagnosis and treatment. anatomy, medical terminology, and applied sciences. Coursework may also include online studies in electrocardiography, echocardiography, pharmacology, ultrasound instrumentation, cardiovascular hemodynamics and invasive or noninvasive cardiovascular or vascular technology procedures. These courses prepare students for participation in clinical experiences in hospitals, outpatient clinics and physician offices. Programs should hold program accreditation from the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs, or CAAHEP.
With an impressive 17% employment growth rate between 2016-2026 by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, an estimated 122,300 working today. PayScale published a $36,564-$86,331 salary range. Ranked #8 in Best Health Care Support Jobs by U.S. News and World Report for best support careers. Many states will require licensure and certification for this career through the American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonographers or Cardiovascular Credentialing International.
5. Registered Nurse
As the Baby Boomers (those born between 1946-1964) are aging at a rapid rate, they are putting a strain on healthcare resources. Additionally, there is an uptick in the retirement of registered nurses which is leaving a dangerous shortage of nurses to care for patients. To help fill this void, community colleges have developed online Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) programs which may be completed in two years. Online coursework for this degree will include studies in anatomy, physiology, biology, physical assessment, chemistry, etc. Students will also be required to participate in clinical experiences, or practicums, which will provide them with hands-on experience caring for patients. It’s important that the ADN program chosen holds accreditation. The most prevalent ADN accreditation is through the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE). State boards licensure is required by passing exams provided by the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLE-RN). Please Note: While there are entry level jobs for ADNs, the profession is moving towards the Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) as the preferred degree. Numerous online nursing colleges and schools are providing RN to BSN bridge programs to assist students to advance their degree.
According to Nursing.org, there are over 2,700 accredited online ADN programs available. U.S. News and World Report rates nursing at #15 in its Best Healthcare Jobs ranking which has a low 1.2% unemployment rate. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics averages salary ranges for nurses between $47,120 to $102,990, depending on qualifications, experience and geographic location. There is expected to be 437,000 nursing positions available between 2016-2026 or a much faster 15% than average. Nursing has been rated by the Gallop Poll as the #1 Most Ethical Profession in the United States for the 15th year in a row.
6. Anesthesia Technician
The job growth for qualified Anesthesia Technicians, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, is at a much faster than average 15% between 2016-2026. Anesthesia Technicians, work in surgical situations under the supervision of anesthesiology technologists and are responsible for patient care as well the preparation and upkeep of medical anesthesia equipment used for administering anesthesia. Online programs for this field will include studies in surgical procedures, pharmacology, mathematics, anatomy, biology, sterile processing, critical care procedures, familiarity of anesthesia equipment and clinical monitoring of patients. These tasks are vital for the administration of anesthesia. An online Associates Degree program will also include clinical experience as part of its overall curriculum. Program accreditation is desirable from the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Professionals and many employers will require anesthesia technicians to be certified.
PayScale, an online employment survey company, suggests salary ranges for anesthesia technologist runs between $28,954-$60,900, depending on the facility and geographic location. Completion of an anesthesia technician online program will take approximately two years and may be found in community colleges or vocational schools.
7. Medical Laboratory Technician
Online laboratory technician programs are available from several reputable schools. These programs involve a hybrid approach, of intensive online coursework in areas such as hematology, molecular biology, or clinical chemistry. Students will also participate in clinical experiences, working with qualified preceptors. Medical Laboratory Technicians routinely perform procedures and tests ordered by physicians, surgeons or other healthcare professionals. MLT careers includes study in clinical laboratory science, MLT certification and licensure being required by some states.
The most recent Bureau of Labor Statistic estimates put the 2016-2026 job growth in this field at 13% with salary ranges of $26,010 to $61,720 per year. U.S. News and World Report ranks Medical Laboratory Technician career as its #11 in its Best Health Care Support and #94 in its Top 100 Best Jobs categories.
8. Licensed Practical Nurse
Licensed Practical Nurses (LPN) programs train students for much of the same clinical work as performed by Registered Nurses. LPN online students study much the same curriculum as ADN students and study anatomy, biology, physiology, pharmacology and include supervised clinical experiences. As with ADNs, clinical practicum are usually conducted in local health facilities. Each state establishes responsibilities for state licensed LPNs; but, in general, LPNs may monitor patients’ health, provide basic patient care like= wound management, patient education, recording of patient vital signs and concern and assisting Registered Nurses and physicians in clinical procedures. Students may enter LPN programs with a high school or GED diploma and some programs may require prerequisite coursework for admission. Program accreditation is important for this degree and most students will be required to sit for the National Council Licensure Examination for Licensed Practical Nurses (NCLE-PN) to obtain state licensure.
Online LPN programs are offered in all 50 states and its estimated that completion of an LPN program may be completed within 12 months. The salary range for a LPN is estimated, by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, to be from $32,150 to $60,240 and the employment rate is expected to be at 12% from 2016-2026. U.S. News and World Report places LPN professionals at #16 in Best Healthcare Support Jobs and ranked it in the top 100 in its Best Jobs ranking and estimates an unemployment rate of 3.1% nationwide.
9. Surgical Technicians
Surgical Technicians are members of surgical teams and perform vital functions during surgery by assisting surgical technologists, physicians and nurses before, during and after surgery. This career is sometimes called operating room technicians or scrubs, and are charged with the correct set-up of necessary surgical instruments, operating room set-up. assuring a sterile surgical environment and appropriately draping patients. These technicians transport patients to and from surgery, monitor vital signs and assure the patient is comfortable. An Associate Degree is recommended for this career and education will include courses in anatomy, biology, medical terminology, pharmacology, and training patient care. Online programs are available for this career which will also require hands on experience in a medical setting. Employers frequently require certification for surgical technicians from the National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting.
Ranked #23 by U.S. News and World Report as one of the best healthcare support jobs and reports a low 2.1% unemployment rate. The Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates this career has a healthy 12% ten-year growth rate and estimates annual salaries range from $31,720 to $64,800 depending on location and experience.
10. Radiology Technologists
Radiology Technologist degrees can open up healthcare facilities working with patients needing imaging procedures for accurate diagnoses. Sometimes referred to as radiographers, these professionals work in diagnostic clinics, hospitals, and outpatient clinics. Online Associate Degrees in this field will concentrate studies in digital imaging principles, fluroscopy, psychology, anatomy and physiology, x-ray techniques, etc. Clinical experience in health care facilities will allow hands-on training in working with patients and perform diagnostic imaging tests. Technologists are charged with maintaining imaging equipment, follow physician orders, explain procedures and assist patients in assuming the proper position for accurate imaging. Radiology Technologists need to be licensed and certified so it’s important any online program chosen will train you to meet those requirements. Radiologic Technicians can specialize with sufficient experience to become MRI technicians or operate other imaging equipment.
With a low 2.1% unemployment rate, U.S. News and World Report has ranked this profession at #22 in its Best Healthcare Support Jobs and #64 in its Top 100 Best Jobs. 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. The Bureau of Labor Statistic rates the job growth for this career at 12% between the years 2016-2026; and a salary range between $47,960 and $95,890 annually.