Work in Healthcare Without a Medical Degree
We love the idea of the ivy-covered buildings and intense academic study of a college education, but let’s face it: University isn’t for everyone.
With student debt at record levels and more people training for new careers later in life, people have many reasons for wanting to skip the degree to get into a career in healthcare. But one thing is for sure: There are plenty of great options in allied healthcare careers that let you get started working without a degree.
What Is Allied Healthcare?
Allied healthcare refers to a set of careers supporting the traditional medical occupations of doctors, nurses and pharmacists. That means everything from medical billing and coding specialists to EMTs to sonographers. There are allied health jobs for every area of interest in healthcare.
Though some allied health jobs, like occupational therapy or audiology, require advanced degrees, there are many jobs to choose from that give you a fast route into healthcare careers without the long years of education.
Why Allied Healthcare Jobs Are on the Rise
The massive debt load of completing a medical degree just doesn’t sound appealing to many of us. With students in medicine, pharmacy and dentistry graduating with debt loads well over $100,000, it’s no wonder more students are choosing healthcare jobs that don’t require degrees.
But allied healthcare careers are growing, and it won’t take you a decade and hundreds of thousands of dollars to get started. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment is projected to grow 19% between 2014 and 2024. That’s 2.3 million jobs, making it the fastest-growing sector in the American economy. As baby boomers age, the need for health professionals is only going to grow.
Median wages in the healthcare sector are also much higher than median wages for all occupations, although this sector includes those allied health jobs that require more advanced education (If it’s the big bucks you’re after, take a look at the highest-paid allied health careers).
Let’s check out some of the allied health careers in demand that are open to you with a certificate or associate degree.
Cardiovascular technologists work with imaging, testing and surgical procedures involving the heart. They use ultrasound equipment to investigate the heart’s valves and chambers and to diagnose heart conditions.
Technologists usually work in hospitals or clinics, where they work closely with surgeons and doctors. They may also assist with catheters and other treatments for patients with heart problems.
Cardiovascular technologist training includes both classroom and hands-on study. Graduates eligible for additional certification and registry exams can earn extra credentials.
At an average salary of $55,000, this is a well-paid career choice.
Dental hygienists support dentists’ work by cleaning patients’ teeth, taking x-rays, and checking teeth, mouth and gums for signs of disease. They play a crucial role in preventative dental care and work closely with patients to educate them on dental health.
Most dental hygienists work in dentists’ offices, and earned an average salary of $72,000 in 2015, the most recent year for which statistics are available. Dental hygienists usually obtain an associate degree, taking around three years of study.
Diagnostic Medical Sonographers
Diagnostic medical sonographers work with medical imaging in an exciting and evolving career that comes with a high salary and many possibilities for specialization.
If this job sounds unfamiliar, you might know diagnostic medical sonographers by their other name, ultrasound technologists. Sonographers prepare patients for appointments, scan patients using sonography (ultrasound) equipment, and review test results.
Training normally consists of a certificate or associate degree program of around 2 to 3 years. After you’re trained and have passed professional certification exams, the median pay for diagnostic medical sonographers is around $69,000 – much higher than the US median salary and one of the highest-paid careers you can enter without a degree.
If you’d love to work with food but healthcare careers are more your style than the restaurant industry, a job as a dietitian or nutritionist might be for you.
Dietitians work with food and nutrition to keep patients healthy and manage health through dietary changes, helping clients to plan meals around health conditions and improve their overall health.
Dietitians usually require a bachelor’s degree, and most states license dietitians. They can work in a range of settings, from clinics and hospitals to schools and community centers. Dietitians earned a median pay of $58,000 in 2015.
EMTs and Paramedics
Are you a fan of medical TV shows? If so, you’re probably addicted to the adrenaline rush of the emergency room, and a career as an EMT or paramedic might be for you.
EMTs are the first people on the scene at an accident and provide initial treatment to patients before they’re admitted to the hospital. They train by completing a certification program. All states license EMTs. EMTs earn a median pay of $32,000 and this career is set to grow 24% over a 10-year period.
Massages might seem like they’re all about relaxation, but massage therapy is an important part of rehabilitative medicine, helping to treat injuries and relieve pain. Registered massage therapists receive training in anatomy and movement, along with hands-on training.
Almost all states license RMTs. Training can take from several weeks to up to two years of study, depending on your certification program.
Registered massage therapists earn a median salary of $38,000 annually. They can work in clinics, doctor’s offices, spas and other locations.
Medical assistants are allied healthcare professionals who are integral parts of the team, being trained to work in multiple areas. Learning both clinical and administrative skills, medical assistants learn lab techniques, first aid, clinical and diagnostic procedures, billing and other skills.
For anyone who loves variety, it’s an excellent choice to work a flexible role exposing you to many areas of healthcare. Most medical assistants complete a certificate program that takes around a year to complete.
Medical assistants earn a median pay of $32,000.
Medical Billing and Coding Specialists
If you’re interested in the administrative side of healthcare, medical billing and coding is a great way to get into the field without health degrees. Billing and coding specialists work with healthcare records, providing an important bridge between healthcare providers and insurance companies.
You can get started by completing a certificate program and may find yourself working in a hospital, clinic, billing company, or from home. Medical billing and coding may also be a stepping stone to management positions.
Billing and coding specialists earn a median pay of $37,000.
Like diagnostic medical sonographers, MRI technologists work with imaging. An MRI technologist operates a Magnetic Resonance Imaging Machine to take diagnostic images. They prepare patients for testing and work with doctors to examine images.
This is a field that’s growing with an aging population who will require more medical testing, and MRI technologists are well-paid, with a median salary of $58,000. You can get into the field by completing a training program that lasts around two years, including a clinical internship.
The bloodiest job on our list, you’ll encounter phlebotomy every time you need to get blood taken. Phlebotomists take blood samples for testing and transfusions, assist patients and handle samples.
This is one of the fastest routes into healthcare careers – certification can take from a few weeks to a few months. Phlebotomists earn a median $32,000 per year and work in hospitals, laboratories, doctors’ offices and mobile healthcare services.
Occupational Therapy and Physical Therapist Assistants
If rehabilitative medicine appeals to you, occupational and physical therapy are exciting fields to get into. Without a degree, you can start a career as an occupational therapy assistant or physical therapist assistant.
Physical therapist assistants work with patients recovering from injuries and illness who are experiencing difficulties with movement. They assist patients with exercises and stretching, and observe patients to report to the physical therapist.
Occupational therapy involves assisting patients with skills required for work and everyday life, both patients recovering from injuries and those dealing with disabilities or long-term illnesses. Occupational therapy assistants train people to use specialized equipment, work with children with disabilities, assist with administrative tasks, and help patients with exercises and stretches.
Both jobs require a diploma or associate degree, usually taking around two years. Physical therapist assistants earn a median $43,000 per year and occupational therapy assistants earn a median $55,000.
With student debt loads for pharmacists rising to over $120,000, becoming a pharmacy technician is a substantially cheaper and faster route into the field of pharmacy.
Pharmacy techs prepare and dispense prescription medications, process insurance information and work closely with pharmacists to make sure patients understand how to take medications.
It’s possible to learn through on-the-job training, but many employers are looking for job candidates with formal training. Diploma and certificate programs can be completed in a couple months or take as long as a year to complete. Pharmacy technicians earn a median salary of $30,000.
Another fast-paced career that will put you at the frontline of medical services, surgical technologists work alongside surgeons in the operating room. They may prepare patients for surgery, operate robotic surgical equipment, provide tools and materials to the surgeon, or assist patients in recovery.
To become a surgical technologist, you can complete a certificate or diploma program, usually taking one or two years. The vast majority work in hospitals and earn a median pay of $44,000 annually.
Ready to take the next step to a healthcare career?